By Shawn Bode
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Rebels softball season in review: 3rd in Section 7AA

 

Photo courtesy of Kelly Goeb

Josie Benzie

Sixth year coach Kelly Goeb's MLWR Rebels came into the 2018 season with high hopes but just as much uncertainty after graduating four starters, including two of whom played and started as freshman in college ball. But this team gelled as the season progressed and had one of the strongest high school line-ups in the Northland. They surprised some teams like Proctor and International Falls in the playoffs and ended up third in the 15 team section, finishing with a 14-8 record. The Rebels were led by five seniors, four of whom were starters since ninth grade.

One of those seniors, Lauren Pederson, played outfield her first two years and then transitioned to become one of the areas best third baseman her last two years. Lauren's rocket fast hands launched balls off her Louisville Slugger with high exit velocity, allowing her to shatter the school record for career home runs with 21, including 10 this year. In fact, those 21 four-baggers rank her fifth all time in the state of Minnesota. She also ended her career with 123 hits in 300 at bats for a .410 average, 22 doubles, 11 triples, 114 runs scored, 100 RBI's, and stole 42 of 44 bases. She was awarded second team all-state honors and was one of 20 select players to play in the State AA All-Star game.


Senior Laura Walker ended as the team's clean up hitter. She was both steady in the pitching circle and in right field. Laura's off season hard work in the batting cage paid big dividends, as she was voted in to be one of the Rebel representatives in the Polar League All-Star game. She finished her Rebels career with 56 hits, 12 doubles, 2 HR's, and a 9-4 pitching win/loss record. Josie Benzie's fourth year as a starter was a transition from second base to leftfield, and she handled it with aplomb. She was again steady at the plate, hitting fifth in the order, and leading the club in doubles. She finished her HS career with 112 hits in 323 at bats for a .347 average. Suzy Grutkoski had been a starter since eighth grade at shortstop. After being out with an ACL injury last year, she rehabbed hard, playing with good range and hands at second base her senior year. She batted sixth in the order, and hit her first home run. She finished her career with 102 runs scored, 76 hits, 11 doubles, and 45 stolen bases. Tana Korhonen came back from being an exchange student her junior year, and provided some good at bats in a DH and pinch hitting role.

Lefty hitting sophomore Jamie Benzie was the Rebels lead off hitter. The all-Polar League player was the fastest girl on the team and dazzled onlookers with a lethal combination of bunting, slap hitting, and swinging away. She was one of the Northland's top hitters with 44 hits and a .543 average. This is already her fourth year as a starter, but her play blossomed this year both at the plate and in centerfield where nothing but raindrops would fall. She will be looked at as a team leader next season. Another player expected to be in that role is junior Dallis Kukuk, who batted third and was in her second season as the team's shortstop. Also an all conference player, Dallis is known for making exciting plays in the field and being a nuisance to opposing pitchers. She had a five for five game late in the year and hit her first home run. Another top returner will be catcher Natalie Mikrot. As an eighth grader she was already one of the toughest catchers to run against in the area. She has a nitch for getting hit by pitches and finished with a strong on base percentage.


Sophomore Bella Meyer came on late to be a dependable right fielder and got a key bases loaded double in a playoff game against I-Falls. Junior Ashley Grutkoski was a utility player that gave the team versatility at second and third base and garnered a few clutch hits during the season.

Junior Lilli Skelton and seventh grader Sarah Christy worked extremely hard all off season on their pitching and it showed with steadily increasing velocity for Sarah and excellent control and command for Lilli. Skelton and Laura Walker shared the team's top pitching duties fairly equally with each getting key playoff wins. Skelton had an excellent ratio of just 13 walks in 56 innings and won eight games. Walker had a team leading 3.14 ERA. Christy came on throwing the hardest by season's end, hitting 56 mph on the gun in the playoffs and pitching key late game innings in the biggest playoff games.

The regular season saw some highlights such as Pederson hitting a ninth inning grand slam captured on WDIO News to beat Duluth Denfeld 12-8 after entering the seventh inning down 8-1. They walked off perennial state power Cherry 10-9 by scoring six runs in the bottom of the seventh. In the playoffs, the Rebels started by beating Pine City 15-0, Proctor 3-1, and then I-Falls 11-5. It was then down to just Virginia and MLWR as the undefeated teams. Virginia's Ava Warren pitched a magnificent game and also had three hits as Virginia downed the Rebels 7-3. In the double elimination playoffs with just three teams remaining, the Rebels then faced the Esko Eskomos in one of the best elimination games played around the state. Esko jumped out to a 6-1 lead after three innings, and with the top pitcher in the region in Esko's Emilee Wilson everyone thought this game was over. Everyone but the Rebels that is. They battled back getting 12 hits off Wilson. In the seventh and final inning with two outs, consecutive hits by Jamie Benzie, Lauren Pederson, and Dallis Kukuk drove in runs and brought the score to 9-8 with a Rebel on each base. Laura Walker battled Wilson and with two strikes hit a chopper up the middle that deflected off Wilson's glove to a charging Hannah Stark at second base. Stark's off balance throw nipped Walker by a fraction of a step for the third and final out giving the #5 state ranked Eskomos the victory. Esko then beat Virginia twice to win the section and ended up sixth in the state tournament.

Most of the returning and up and coming Rebels are now playing summer ball, looking forward to a 2019 season with even higher hopes.

Photo courtesy of Kelly Goeb

Laura Walker

 

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