The summer of 2019 certainly will be one to remember for everyone involved with the Aussie Peppers.
What started as a training season to prepare for Olympic qualification turned into something that was about way more than just softball.
With most of the players being from Australia, the summer has been a great team-building and cultural experience.
“Most of our players are from different states back home, so we don’t usually get to spend a lot of time together,” pitcher Tarni Stepto said prior to the Peppers’ season finale Wednesday at Caswell Park. “Being here and playing together has really strengthened our team.”
On the field, playing in National Pro Fastpitch has been exactly what the Peppers needed.
The high volume of games and high level of competition in a competitive environment is what coach Laing Harrow was looking for. While they closed out their season with a 1-0 win over the USSSA Pride, they didn’t win quite as many games as they hoped, going 15-33-1. Still, the team and players made progress.
Harrow and general manager Matt Mangulius each talked about a higher quality of at-bats as the season has went on. Mangulius added conditioning as another area of improvement.
“You have to think about where they’re coming from,” Mangulius said. “It’s hard to just get on an airplane, fly 15,000 miles and play at a high level.”
Most of the team will head back to Australia on Friday to continue preparation for Olympic qualification next month in China.
The team will have a 12-day minicamp in Australia upon returning home. Then they will travel to Japan for a series of exhibition games. The Asia/Oceania Olympic qualifier will begin Sept. 24 in Shanghai. The 2020 Summer Olympics will take place in Tokyo.
The tournament will consist of eight different countries with China and Chinese Taipei appearing to be the toughest competition, according to Harrow.
“I think we’re going to be a very difficult team to beat,” Harrow said. “We’re certainly not under the illusion it’s going to be easy.”
While the majority of the team heads back to Australia, pitcher Coley Ries will look to get back into normal life. Ries, a 2017 Minnesota State graduate and Eagle Lake native, is one of the few players on the team from the United States.
She has worked as a graduate assistant at Minnesota State the past two seasons, and is hoping to get into coaching.
“Everyone has been extremely welcoming from the players to the support staff,” Ries said. “I’ll definitely be waking up in the middle of the night to watch them in qualification.”
There will be plenty of fond memories for the Peppers as they leave Mankato. While there is still uncertainty about whether or not they will be back in Mankato next summer, the hope is that they will.
“It’s been an awesome experience being set up in Mankato,” Harrow said. “The community has been so welcoming. This feels like home.”
Wednesday’s game was a pitcher’s dual throughout, with no score through three innings.
The Peppers broke through in the fourth when Jade Wall led off the inning with a triple. Belinda White drove Wall in with a double to right field in the ensuing at-bat
Kaia Parnaby started in the circle for the Peppers and was dominant throughout. She delivered a three-hit shutout, completely stifling the Pride for the Peppers’ second win in the four-game home series against the Pride.
The Pride never got a runner to third base.
“It felt good tonight, everything was working.” Parnaby said. “Taking two games from the Pride was a great way to finish the season.
“It should give us great momentum going into China.”