The Lady Comets fought through a lot of heartache last year. After their 5-9 record, 3-7 in the conference last year, there appears to be a renewed a spark that is igniting a fire in Craig Nersten's squad this year.
After watching All-conference pitcher Laura Tungseth walk across Hillcrest's graduation stage in May to begin a collegiate softball career at M-State in Fergus Falls, the Comets noticed a big hole on the mound. They looked to the backstop and saw a sinkhole where Tungseth's cousin, Abby Taylor, camped out for four years. Missing two key positions, it is natural to think the Comets were looking ahead to more dreary days. This couldn't be further from the truth.
When Hillcrest boarded the bus for their first softball game in Ortonville there was extreme excitement. Junior Nicole Dekok followed her mother's footsteps in treking to Fergus Falls to attend Hillcrest. Next to the tupperware container in Nicole's car packed with desk lamps and fans for her Hillcrest dorm room sat her softball bag. Nicole is an ace pitcher, looking forward to two dominating seasons with the Comets.
As Nicole crossed Ohio on her path to the Castle, Ruthanne Erickson was packing up her cleats for a new venture in softball at Hillcrest. Ruthie hasn't played a specific position, journeying to Hillcrest after hearing stories of the glory days from her mother.
When school started in August, Nersten dusted-off his scouting book and started talking to girls about playing softball. He had a few holes to fill, but they didn't seem ominous. All-conference shortstop Megan Aasness would be back, along with her school record 27 steals in a single season. She plays well in Nersten's system. He is looking forward to her racking up more steals as she finishes her school year by setting a high bar with the school steals record.
Nersten also saw first base covered. Annie Murphy was honorable mention at the position at last seasons conference meeting. Sophie Iverson was also talked about at the gather. She is going to be a utility cornerstone for the Lady Comets. Emma Royce and Karina Larson will bring some baserunners in for the Comets with their keen eye and quick reflexes form the plate. They'll nail down the outfield for the Comets this year. Nersten knows this bedrock of returning players is going to keep eyes on the Comets all season.
As Dekok and Erickson walked into the Student Union at Hillcrest in August, Nersten saw two of the remaining 3 pieces he needed to build a very successful team for the next few seasons. The final building block is Nersten's niece, Tara Ferenczy, who will play 3rd base and tack down the corner for the Lady Comets opposite Murphy.
This new squad practiced despite frigid temperatures last week, boarding a bus yesterday to play in Ortonville. The nearly two hour bus ride didn't seem to phase the Comets. They came to show their conference the difference a year makes in girls softball.
As Dekok warmed up, throwing pitches at lightning speed to the Comets' new catcher, Ruthie Erickson, Nersten grew impressed. Erickson took the warm ups in stride, digging in and gritting her teeth as Dekok held little back to prep Erickson. The two would work like seasoned veterans throughout the afternoon. 7 innings later they would hug on the mound, the first of what is likely to be many victories for the new pitching-catching tandem for the Lady Comets.
Behind Dekok, the Lady Comets dusted off their gloves and pulled cobwebs from their cleats. The first three innings didn't resemble the final four. Sluggishness in the field and difficulty rounding the bases on offense led to only two Comet scores in the first three frames. Dekok kept her team in the game, striking out 12 Ortonville sluggers, walking none, and allowing only one earned run in her first start in red and white.
The Comets caught fire in the fourth, after their legs were back under them from their two hour nap on the bus. Three runs in the fourth and sixth innings catapulted Hillcrest out of their funk. Megan Aasness was a shining gem for the Lady Comets, jumping on base with 3 hits, stealing 4 bases, including home.
Aasness benefitted from the Comets' early work in the batting cages. Her success on the base path was made possible thanks to Iverson and Dekok striking fear in the eyes of Ortonville's pitchers. The tandem hitters placed a few long doubles over the infield, calling extra attention from the mound that left Aasness freedom to stroll around the base path at her leisure.
After 7 innings of Comet highlights Nersten directed his team in a huddle, casting vision for the season as the sky erupted in a cheer of pink, orange, and blue behind the huddle. Nersten's squad lined up by the fence before boarding the bus. They couldn't stop smiling after their dominant 10-2 victory.
The Comets travel to Pelican Rapids Monday for a 5pm game. Their home opener is Tuesday, April 19 at 5pm at Hannah Park.