Softball: Menahga peaked at perfect time
Qualifying for state highlighted a 16-11 season.
MENAHGA – Lindsay Aho’s first year as the head coach of the Menahga fastpitch softball team couldn’t have gone much better.
After going 9-5 to finish third in the Park Region Conference standings, the Braves peaked during the postseason by going undefeated to capture the Section 5A title and earn the program’s fifth trip to the state Class A tournament. Menahga lost both games at state to cap off a 16-11 season.
“My first season went well. The girls worked hard and we had some fun and accomplished a lot this year,” said Aho. “The girls definitely lived up to expectations. At the beginning of the season, I knew the girls could be competitive, but we had a lot to learn. The girls took it all in – basically in between innings since the season ended up being so packed – and kept getting better.”
The Braves opened the season with a 4-2 loss to Wadena-Deer Creek and a sweep over Sebeka by scores of 23-3 and 10-7 in conference play. After losses to Lake Park-Audubon (12-2) and Frazee (15-9), Menahga swept Parkers Prairie (9-5 and 12-5) and split with New York Mills (winning 9-5 and losing 7-3) in conference games and defeated Pelican Rapids 9-1.
Conference splits with Pillager (losing 8-0 and winning 14-9), Ottertail Central (losing 2-1 and winning 8-4) and Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale (losing 10-7 and winning 15-5) followed. Menahga also lost to East Polk 10-0 during that stretch. The Braves ended the regular season with a 5-4 loss to Hill City/Northland, a 12-2 win over W-DC and a 16-0 victory over Pine River-Backus.
New York Mills won the conference title with a 13-1 record and BHV followed at 10-4. Following the Braves were Pillager (7-7), W-DC (6-8), Sebeka (5-9), Parkers Prairie (4-10) and OTC (2-12).
For the Section 5A tournament, Menahga received the No. 2 seed in the West and defeated No. 7 Cass Lake-Bena 20-0, No. 3 Sebeka 7-2 and No. 1 Walker-Hackensack-Akeley 5-2 before defeating Mille Lacs (the No. 1 seed in the East) 7-2 and 3-2 to win the section title.
At the state Class A tournament, Menahga lost to No. 1-seeded Nicollet 10-0 and No. 4 Red Lake Falls 11-1. The Braves also made state appearances in 1998, 2004, 2007 and 2010.
“During the playoffs, the girls were playing their best. It was so fun to see them battle,” said Aho. “They also never really looked nervous during games. They handled everything fairly well. At state, we definitely let nerves catch up to us, but it was good for them to get down there and experience that.”
Leading the Braves this season were seniors Michaela Skoog (first base), Molly Hendrickson (left field) and Journie Schoon (right field); sophomores Janelle Hendrickson (center field) and Aili Anderson (catcher); and freshmen Leah Weaver (pitcher, third base), Joie Koll (pitcher, third base), Erica Johnson (second base) and Anna Pietila (shortstop). Also seeing playing time were Elise Torola, Kyah Jantz, Janelle Lehto and Isabelle Aho.
Koll, who was named the Park Region Conference Pitcher of the Year, joined Janelle Hendrickson, Pietila and Weaver as all-conference players. Koll was also named the Braves’ MVP while Janelle Hendrickson (Offensive MVP), Anderson (Defensive MVP) and Skoog (Most Improved) also received team awards.
Koll led the Braves’ offense with a .489 (43-88, including seven doubles and five home runs) batting average and was second with 27 RBI. On the mound, Koll went 12-10 with a 2.48 ERA in 23 pitching appearances. Koll struck out 119 batters in 113 innings pitched.
Weaver batted .349 (30-86, including five homers) and led the Braves with 36 RBI. Weaver posted a 4-1 record and a 4.08 ERA in eight pitching appearances, striking out 44 batters in 44 innings pitched.
Janelle Hendrickson hit .391 (18-46) with 15 RBI, Skoog batted .324 (22-68) with 15 RBI, Pietila batted .333 (27-81) with 10 RBI, Molly Hendrickson hit .284 (19-67, including six doubles, three triples and two homers), Schoon hit .278 (20-72) with 19 RBI, Anderson hit .231 (15-65), Torola batted .213 (13-61), Johnson batted .203 (14-69, including three triples) and Jantz hit .111 (3-27).
Even though the Braves will have to replace three key starters in Molly Hendrickson, Schoon and Skoog, Aho is counting on her team to contend for the conference title and make another run at returning to the state tournament next spring.
“With returning so many, we have a lot more expectations for next year’s team,” said Aho. “We’re hoping to stay sound fundamentally defensively and become more aggressive offensively. After seeing how they matched up with the best of the best, the girls are definitely ready to keep working and so next year we can compete and hopefully get back down there and get some wins.”