The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Jim Rueda

May 2, 2012

Rueda: Mankato a perfect place for softball

— For those of you who thought Mankato might be starting to lose its reputation as a hotbed for girls fastpitch softball, it’s time to think again.

Although no official records are kept on this particular stat it is believed this is the first time that all three Mankato high school teams — East, West and Loyola — remained undefeated as of May 3. Sure, all three teams have had fast starts in the same season before, but to have all three programs unbeaten with the playoffs less than three weeks away is probably unprecedented.

For the record, Mankato East is 13-0, including a 5-4, nine-inning win over perennial Class AAA power Minnetonka; West is 9-0, including a 3-1 win over Prior Lake, which is honorably mentioned in this week’s Class AAA rankings; and Loyola is 9-0, including a 4-0 shutout of state Class A power New Ulm Cathedral.

One of the reasons it is unlikely this situation has occurred before is because East and West have usually played each other at least once by this stage of the season. A quirk in the schedule has the two teams playing each other late in this year’s campaign.

It’s not unexpected that each of the three teams is playing well. East is coming off a third-place finish in last year’s state tournament and has standout pitcher Coley Ries back to finish out her prep career.

West got hot in last year’s playoffs, reaching the finals of the Section 2AAA Tournament before getting eliminated. The Scarlets also return their top two pitchers — Mallory Veroeven and Missy Elkins — from a year ago.

Loyola lost its head coach, Laura Olson, to Maple River this year but longtime assistant Jessica Kirschner appears to have made a seamless transition to the top spot.

Pitching again is the key for the Crusaders as the three-headed staff of Katie Homan, Jordyn Strachan and Olivia Zwaschka returned intact from 2011.

“I can’t remember it ever happening before,” East coach Joe Madson said. “It’ll be interesting to see what happens the rest of the way.”

In case you’re wondering, the first East-West matchup is slated for 5 p.m. Tuesday at the West field.

Jim Rueda is the Free Press sports editor. To contact him, call 344-6381 or e-mail him at jrueda@mankatofreepress.com.

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Jim Rueda