By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
Senior second baseman Carolyn Osdoba believes a lot of teams might be overlooking the Mankato East softball team this season, and that’s just fine with her.
Gone is longtime starting pitcher Coley Ries, who graduated. The All-State pitcher helped East qualify for the state tournament three of the last four seasons, and she will certainly be missed.
But if that means opponents will be writing the Cougars off this season, Osdoba thinks they are in for a surprise.
“We know we have a good team,” Osdoba said. “Megan Ulrich is back to pitch for us, and we have two other pitchers who are pretty good, too. We think we’re going to be fine.”
This is Osdoba’s fourth year on varsity. She played a number of different positions as a ninth-grader and then began to settle into her second base spot as a sophomore.
Her goal this year is to improve offensively. She batted .270 last year as the No. 2 hitter in the order and wants to get that number up.
“I had to do a lot of bunting, and I don’t mind that at all,” she said. “I just want to improve my batting average so I can help the team.
“Defensively I think I’m fine. I like playing defense.”
Head coach Joe Madson says Osdoba is one of six seniors on this year’s team who have learned what it takes to win.
“She’s been in the program for awhile and knows what’s expected,” he said. “They’re all confident.
“Just because Coley’s gone that doesn’t change our goals. We want to win the Big Nine and win the section and go to state.”
Joining Osdoba in the infield should be freshman Ali Taylor (.354 last season) at first base, senior Savannah Quandt at short and senior Jordan Kuster at third. Quandt was the team’s primary catcher last season and could move back there if needed.
Quandt and Kuster also represent the heart of the East order. Quandt batted .420 with 15 doubles, two triples and eight home runs a year ago. Kuster hit .326 with seven doubles and two triples.
“They’re probably going to be in our three and four spots in the order,” Madson said. “We’ll be counting on them for a lot of our run production.”
Junior Macy Anderson (.324) is the new starting catcher and eighth-grader Torey Richards may see some time behind the plate as well. Junior Shelby Beckman (.300) returns to patrol center field and sophomore Paige Lingbeck (.357) is the front-runner for the right-field spot. Sophomore Libby Andrego, senior Hailey Oelke, eighth-grader Morgan Keim-Wolf and senior Katy Snyder are also challenging for playing time.
Ulrich threw 22 innings on varsity last year, compiling a 3.27 earned-run average with 20 strikeouts and five walks. She is the No. 1 starter going into the season.
Sophomore left-hander Nicole Rasmussen is also available to pitch as is first baseman Taylor.
“Megan has shown us in practice that she’s ready to take over,” Madson said. “I think all the players believe she can do the job.”
The Cougars (25-5 last season) are scheduled to open the season on April 9 against Rochester Mayo. Starting time is 5 p.m. at East’s Thomas Park.