Softball: Battle-tested Ponies prep for state tourney

By STUART GROSKREUTZ – Stillwater Gazette

Eight losses this season has allowed the Stillwater softball team to fly under the radar while also remaining outside the state rankings for most of the season, which is fine with the Ponies and head coach Bob Beedle.

Stillwater (18-8) has won eight of its last nine games, including victories over highly regarded Hill-Murray, North St. Paul and White Bear Lake the past three weeks -after placing second in a conference that produced the state champion (Hastings) and runner-up (Forest Lake) a year ago.

"We’re playing well and everybody’s 0-0 as far as we’re concerned," Beedle said. "We’re looking forward to the challenges. We think we’re playing good softball right now and we’ve gained some momentum ever since the Eagan game."

That Eagan game followed a 1-0 loss to second-ranked Forest Lake (23-1), which also qualified for the state tourney.

"I think our record is a little bit deceptive and doesn’t mean anything at this point to us," Beedle said. "The fact that we have eight losses, we think we’ve grown from our losses and are the kind of team that has shown steady improvement and, frankly, we don’t play the little sisters of the poor. We think our conference is the toughest in the state from top to bottom and we’re very comfortable with the progress that we’ve made and think our best ball is ahead of us."

Farmington outscored its four Section 1AAA opponents by a combined 30-8 and carries a six-game winning streak into the state tournament. The Tigers are led by pitcher Ashley Betzold, who in addition to posting a 17-4 record is batting .410 this season.

Betzold and Allison Rice each homered during last week’s 5-1 victory over Rochester John Marshall in the section finals. Rice is hitting .458 with four home runs this season.

"We’ve seen them play once and they have strong pitching and a solid team," Beedle said. "You get down to the final eight teams in the state tournament and each team is high quality and we have a lot of respect for them.

"Our main concern is that we can’t chase pitches. Our pitch selection will have to be strong and we’ll have to try and control our emotions. (Betzold) has a drop ball and a very effective change-up and will try to make hitters chase. She’s also the best athlete and best hitter on their team."

The Ponies have competed with enough high-level teams this season to feel confident against any opponent, the coach suggested.

"Our biggest concern is that we worry about ourselves. We want to play up to our abilities and catch and throw the ball and if we take care of our own game we’ll be in good shape. Two of our losses were to Forest Lake, one an extra-inning game, and we defeated North St. Paul twice. Forest Lake has been rated No. 1 and North St. Paul beat Jefferson so we know if we play up to our capabilities, we can compete with the teams that are in this tournament."

Stillwater has three pitchers who have been effective this season, but Hannah Heacox collected four of the team’s victories in the section tournament and has compiled a 15-3 record this season with an ERA of 1.63. Rachel Rhode and Rachel Hartwig provide enviable pitching depth for the Ponies.

Senior second baseman Allison Eder-Zdechlik leads a balanced lineup for the Ponies while batting .422 with two doubles, three triples and three home runs. She has also driven in 19 runs, which ranks second on the team behind sophomore Natalie Gerber, who is hitting .337 with 21 RBIs.

Sophomores Sidnee Ronsberg, who is hitting .308, and Emily Ramberg (.269) have emerged as solid producers down the stretch as late additions to the varsity lineup. Ronsberg is no stranger to state competition, however, as she was a member of Stillwater’s state tournament gymnastics team this past winter.

"We have a combination of some younger players that have performed well at the sophomore and JV level and earned their spots and that’s one of the causes of our improvement and we’ve seen some growth in all of our varsity players from back on March 12," Beedle said. "We have a lot of kids who have competed before on the big stage in other sports like hockey and gymnastics. This isn’t our first trip to the ballpark. We’ve been in a lot of close games, extra-inning games, and we hope a lot of those factors will help us go down there and hopefully perform up to our abilities.

This marks Stillwater’s eighth trip to the state tournament and the second under Beedle’s direction following the team’s most recent appearance in 2008. The Ponies also advanced to state in 1986, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2001 and 2003 while capturing state champions under coach Mike Pavlovich in 1995, 1996 and 1998.

Eder-Zdechlik to play in All-Star Series

Stillwater’s Allison Eder-Zdechlik has been selected to participate in the 24th Annual Minnesota High School All-Star Girls Softball Series on Sunday at Caswell Park in North Mankato.

The senior is one of 72 players – from a list of 6,000 who play high school softball in Minnesota – who will be competing on one of six teams in the event, which is sponsored by the Minnesota High School Fastpitch Coaches Association and the National Softball Association – Minnesota Sports Federation.

Eder-Zdechlik will compete for the Heat, a team coached coached by Penny Witzenberg and Todd Johnson of Bloomington Jefferson.

Stillwater coach Bob Beedle indicated this is well-deserved recognition for Eder-Zdechlik, who plans to play hockey and softball at Gustavus Adolphus starting in the fall. Eder-Zdechlik leads the Ponies in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base average and stolen bases.

"This is a kid who, if you look at Allison as a sophomore, she hit less than .100," Beedle said. "She’s made tremendous strides and last year was all-conference and all-section and there is good reason to assume that she will probably be named to those teams this season as well. She is a captain, a leader offensively and defensively and a nemesis on the bases with her speed. She is the real deal for us."

Sunday’s festivities include a Hall of Fame banquet and breakfast for the players, coaches, umpires, staff and volunteers, followed by the opening ceremonies and games slated for noon and 2 p.m.

Class AAA state tourney

At Caswell Park

Thursday’s quarterfinals

Stillwater (18-8) vs. Farmington (17-2), 9 a.m.

Bloomington Jefferson (17-2) vs. Mankato East (24-3), 9 a.m.

Big Lake (14-7) vs. Maple Grove (22-2), 11 a.m.

Forest Lake (23-1) vs. Orono (23-1), 11 a.m.

Semifinals – Thursday at 3/5 p.m.

Consolation semifinals – Thursday at 3/5 p.m.

Friday’s schedule

Fifth place, 9 a.m.

Third place, 11 a.m.

First place, 2 p.m.