Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Al Rose
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Rebels softball girls set sights on 7AA title, a trip to state


March 23, 2017

Al Rose

All but two of the starters from last year's Moose Lake/Willow River Rebels softball team have returned, making for a strong team.

After tying the best finish since 1996 as the Section 7AA runner-up last year, the 2017 Moose Lake/Willow River Rebels softball girls have set their sights set on winning the Section 7AA title to earn a trip to the state tournament. With Cloquet and Hermantown still moved up to Class AAA, that continues to be a very realistic goal. All but two of the starters from last year's Rebels return and the team is more battle tested for the double elimination playoff games.

Both the team and individual statistics over the last two seasons bear out MLWR's significant improvements. The 2015 Rebels, with a record of 18-6 for a win-loss percentage of .750, had 212 hits in 24 games and scored 212 runs. The 2015 team averaged .317 as a group. The top 10 had 49 steals.

The 2016 Rebels, with a record of 20-6 for a win-loss percentage of .769, pounded the ball for 286 hits in 26 games and scored 293 runs. The 2016 team had more than twice as many steals with 102 thefts. The team averaged .360.

Head coach Kelly Goeb is beginning her fifth season as skipper of the squad. Tonya Benzie is a four-year head junior varsity coach and varsity assistant. Mark Carlson, a longtime varsity assistant, continues to help the program. Lisa Beise remains as the junior high coach and is again helped by Jillian McGee. "For now, the four seniors are our leaders. We haven't picked captains. The team managers are Jack Anderson, Isaac Riihiluoma and Suzy Grutkoski," stated the coach.

The Rebels will need to fill both the key spots on the left side of the infield. Junior shortstop and lead-off hitter Grutkoski is lost to an ACL knee injury and third baseman Jessica Paull graduated. As a sophomore, Grutkoski was a sharp shortstop and she was very much an impact player on offense with an average of .326 with 28 hits and 17 RBIs. Grutkoski led the team with 26 steals. She was second in runs scored with 46. Paull, with a gun of an arm from third base, had an average of .284. Paull had 25 hits with eight doubles, 22 RBIs and 23 runs scored.

Ally Bode, a starter since eighth grade, will be pitching for her senior season. As a sophomore in 2015, Bode was first in the area with 246 strikeouts and second in the area with a 1.28 earned run average. She had a record of 16-6 (.727 win-loss percentage) with seven shut outs. At the plate, Bode was first in the area with 46 hits and first in the area with 12 doubles. She was second in the area with an average of .582 and she led MLWR with 24 RBIs.

Coming off a foot injury for 2016, Bode braved it out, further developed her change-up and trusted her defense for a record of 20-6 (.769 win-loss percentage). She had 144 strikeouts and posted a 2.41 ERA with two shut outs. Bode supported her cause with another season of superior hitting. Bode broke the state RBI record by driving in 56 runs. She averaged .564 with 53 hits, including 14 doubles and she led MLWR in runs scored with 49. She tied the state record with seven triples and she was one under the area leader with six home runs. Bode was a Polar League All-Star, an All-Conference selection, All-Section 7AA. Bode was a member of the Duluth News Tribune All-Area First Team and she was named to the All-State Second Team.

Junior outfielder Lauren Pederson had a very good 2016 season. Pederson boosted her batting average from .375 to .457. She was second in hits with 42 and second in doubles and triples with 10 and three, respectively, and she had a game-winning home run in the playoffs. Pederson was second in steals with 19 and she was tied for the third in RBIs with 29. Pederson received the same first three post-season honors as Bode.

As a sophomore second baseman, Josie Benzie had a .421 average. She was tied for third in RBIs with 29. She was third in hits with 40 and fourth in steals with 13. She also received the same first three post-season awards as Bode and Pederson.

As an eighth-grader, outfielder Jamie Benzie, a very skilled left-handed drag bunter and slap hitter, had a .408 batting average. She was third in steals with 16 and fourth in hits with 31. Jamie Benzie was an All-Section 7AA selection.

Senior Marissa Mikrot will be in her second season as the starting catcher. Mikrot had the fifth highest average at .326. She was second in RBIs with 31. Mikrot had 29 hits, including six doubles and two home runs and she scored 33 runs.

After missing last year with an ACL injury, Laura Walker returns as a junior. Walker pitched two games with two wins as a freshman. She had a .275 average with 19 hits, including five doubles with 13 RBIs and she scored 15 runs.

Senior Nicole Newham will be starting her second season as a skilled stretching and digging lefty first baseman. Newman raised her batting average from .188 to .242. She had 16 hits, including six doubles and one home run and she had 15 RBIs with 21 runs scored.

Last year was Sage Gerard's first season of varsity softball. As a junior outfielder, Gerard had a .235 average with 20 hits, including two doubles, two triples and one home run. Gerard had 21 RBIs and she scored 25 runs.

Dallis Kukuk, with seven at-bats as a freshman, had a .286 average. Kukuk was quite effective as a pinch-runner as she had nine steals and scored three runs.

Coach Goeb has put together a tougher schedule this year. "We know that by playing a stronger schedule our record might not be as good, but it should translate to make us a better team at the end of the season," she predicted. "Our biggest asset is team camaraderie. We have the pitching and our hitting will be even better than last year. We will still have speed on the base paths," stated Goeb. "We know we can always improve on everything, for example, keeping the errors down. We'll have some new players coming up onto the varsity roster, but we haven't set that yet," she said. The Rebels will have competitors from which to make choices for shortstop and third base. "Perhaps we'll move Lauren (Pederson) in from the outfield or possibly pick from a combination of Dallis (Kukuk), Sami Nylen or Natalie Mikrot or we may even move Josie (Benzie) over from second base. The outfield will be between Laura (Walker), Sage (Gerard), Jamie (Benzie) and Lauren (Pederson). Laura (Walker) could do some pitching and Lilli Skelton pitched in the summer league," said the coach. In addition, sophomore Ashley Grutkoski did some pinch-hitting as a freshman. Sophomore Rachel Christy was solid as a catcher in the summer league.

The Rebels are getting right at it as they start out by traveling to play a perennially strong New Life Academy team on Monday, April 3, at 4 p.m. "We could use that as a barometer to see where we are at, but mainly we wanted to play someone down south to make it more likely that we get that first game in," said Goeb. MLWR is at Pine City on Thursday, April 6, at 4:30 p.m.

The Rebels home opener is on Friday, April 7, at 4:30 p.m. in Willow River. "We host Nashwauk-Keewatin for our first home game. They have a good pitcher," stated Goeb. "In the Polar League big schools, it's Esko and Two Harbors, and in the small schools, it's Carlton as the strongest competitors. In the section, it's Esko, Rush City, I-Falls and maybe Virginia. Our objective is to continue to improve in all areas. Our goal, of course, is the same as it would be for most any other team. All the girls want to win the section and go to state," concluded the coach.


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