Reigning Lake softball champions reload

Jason Olson
Sports Editor

Eden Prairie off to 0-2 start with two new pitchers

Eden Prairie softball has a few new faces ready to lead the way this spring.

Graduated are standout shortstop Lauren Oberle, pitcher Johanna Welter and catcher Natalie Maurice with junior Elsie Hanken and sophomore Grace Sanford primed to take over pitching duties.

Two games into the season, the defending Lake Conference champion Eagles find themselves 0-2 having scored six total runs in 12 innings.

Eden Prairie opened the season with a 6-2 at Waconia April 11 before No. 2 ranked Park of Cottage Grove spoiled the Eagles home opener at Miller Park by a 14-4 score in five innings two days later.

Eagles head coach Dan Rubischko said they can’t let their defensive play in the field affect their approach in the batter’s box and on the base paths. “We’re capable of scoring more runs, we had the bases loaded,” he said.

Senior Bekah Ludden has been a bright spot with the bat along with Hanken who Rubischko said will be a staple in the lineup even when she isn’t pitching because of the way she’s swinging the bat.

Junior first baseman Zoey Brooks has verbally committed to Minnesota Duluth and has been a very consistent batter for the Eagles joining juniors Sydney Shields at second base and Izy Obiazor at third base. Sophomore Kate Zimmerman takes over at shortstop and classmate Molly Nelson has made an impact in the starting lineup in the outfield. Sophomore Taylor Wright moved from her starting role in the outfield in 2016 to catch this year.

“They earned a spot in the varsity lineup and congratulations, now you get to see real pitching now,” Rubischko said. “We’re asking them to speed up their learning curve a bit.”

The team traveled to Florida over spring break in a move to get in some outdoor practice, something the program has done since 2002. “Some didn’t go and so they missed a week of practice,” he said while they used the sunshine time in Florida to take some balls in the dirt.

That extra practice time hasn’t translated into more wins just yet. “It will take us 5-10 games to figure out what’s going on,” he said, looking at the Waconia game as an example. “We’re trying to explain to the kids that you don’t learn overnight how to lay-off a rise ball. It’s something you learn over time and we had some good at-bats against PArk but we were chasing some balls out of the zone against Waconia.”

“We don’t have any room for errors,” Rubischko said about the margin between a win or loss this spring. “We’re not going to strike anyone out or blow them away so we have to hit our locations and right now the ball is going where we’re not.”

One example came against Park on Thursday with two runners on base when Hanken struck out the batter but the ball skipped away from the catcher and instead of getting out of the inning, the bases were loaded for the Wolfpack. “One mistake turns into three runs and if you’re going to win, we cannot afford to give up runs like that.”

“They’ve gotta learn how to do things together because we aren’t going to have one person carrying us,” he said.

As for the lack of runs generated, Rubischko said, ”We’ve just got to figure it out. The message to the team was that even if we held them to six runs the last two games we would’ve still lost. “We’re learning. It will come.”

Eden Prairie captains are senior outfielders Erin Stasek and Ludden plus Shields.

The Eagles always have a tough Lake Conference schedule against the likes of Hopkins, Minnetonka, Edina and Wayzata but this season, like in the past, Rubischko challenged his team with an ultra-difficult non-conference schedule against several teams that made the final 2016 state rankings (No. 1 Class 4A Park, No. 3 Chanhassen No. 6 Woodbury, Class 3A No. 17 Waconia and No. 10 Delano).

Contact Jason Olson at jason.olson@ecm-inc.com. Follow him on Twitter @SunSportsJason