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Prep softball: With bats ablaze, KMS heads to state

Tribune file photo KMS' Erin Haglund takes a healthy cut in this May 2012 file photo. She and her Saints teammates are hitting .400 and broke the team home run record this season.

We all remember Sammy Sosa's and Mark McGwire's epic punch-counterpunch race to Roger Maris' single-season home run record. But what if that momentous duel wrapped up three days before the 1998 All-Star Game instead of the waning days of the season?

We all remember Barry Bonds thrusting his arms to the sky to celebrate his career home run record. But what if Barry set the mark in 1995 instead of 2007?

Those fantastical historical revisions would be roughly equivalent to what the Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg softball team did to part of its offensive record book this season.

To say that the Saints merely "broke" their team home run record would be an understatement. What they actually did to the record was bludgeon it to death with metal bats, roll it up in a rug, stuff it in a car trunk and drive it out to dump in a river.

KMS has hit 27 home runs in 22 games this season. Their old season record? 11.

Poor thing never stood a chance against these relentless Saints.

"They just swing hard, all these kids," said KMS head coach Eileen Suter, who leads the 22-0 Saints back into the Class A state tournament against Cherry on Thursday in Mankato after a third-place finish in 2011.

"We do a lot of drills and we've done a lot of power-hitting drills the last couple of years. It's really paying off for them now."

It's not as if the Saints trot out a couple of big boppers who can consistently clear the fences. Five players in the KMS lineup have hit at least two home runs, and three have hit more than seven, led by Sam Dunn's eight. Ellen Johnson and Courtney Olson both have hit seven and Lyndsay Jorgenson, the Saints' No. 9 hitter, has three.

"As far as hitting in this lineup, everybody has the ability to do it and we don't hold them back," said Johnson, a senior captain. "I give (Suter) a lot of credit for making it happen. We do a lot of drills and she goes to clinics and comes back with a lot of good information that we can use."

Hitting drills are always essential, but it's the enthusiasm and dedication with which they've been undertaken that has made this KMS team special, Suter said.

"All the drills are just baby steps leading up to, say, hitting off a machine," Suter said. "And these girls don't skip a drill. They're very dedicated and they all get along. That makes a big difference."

"We're pretty tight," Johnson said. "Obviously, we want to make each other better but everybody on the team does it. We've got older players helping younger players and younger players asking questions about how to get better. We love to play the game and we all have fun doing this."

And they certainly have had a blast watching balls sailing over fences and then celebrating at home plate. But the home run is not the only telling stat for measuring this Saints team's ability at the plate.

The Saints enter the state tournament hitting .401 as a team, with a .648 slugging percentage. Almost 40 percent of the Saints' 250 hits have gone for extra bases, and eight players have reached double figures in runs batted in. Three have 28 RBIs or more, led by Olson's 34.

Seven Saints regulars have slugging percentages of .528 or higher (led by Dunn's otherworldly 1.169).

Olson also leads the team with 11 doubles and her .481 batting average is second only to Dunn's .593.

"I think Courtney is the most dangerous hitter on our team," Suter said. "Everything she hits is a shot. I would not want to face that girl as a pitcher and I would not want to be playing third base with her up."

Many teams with powerful offenses have bogged down come state tournament time, when they inevitably will come face-to-face with a superlative pitcher.

But Suter is confident that won't be the case for this year's Saints. Those standout pitchers don't often have to face a lineup, one through nine, that can pose a constant threat like KMS can.

"From top to bottom, they're all top notch," Suter said. "They can all hit the ball and they all have a great work ethic. A lot of times even good teams will have a batting order that is strong through six players and then they struggle. But this is one of the two best hitting teams I've had (since her first season in 1992). We've had four teams make to state and I really think this is the best team we've brought to state yet."

Tom Larson

Tom Larson is the sports editor of the West Central Tribune.

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