2018 Tribune All-Area Softball Team
Ted Williams is regarded as one of the greatest baseball players to ever put on a cap and his 1941 season is best remembered for his batting average. He hit .406 that season and it's a feat that hasn't been accomplished since. Scores of professional baseball players have tried and failed to reach that mark and it's not likely to happen anytime soon.
Eight of the nine members of this year's All-Area Softball First Team blew past Williams' .400 mark, some laughably so, while hitting a different kind of ball this season. The 2018 season ended without an area team in the state tournament but it wasn't for a lack of talent. Willmar made the Section 5AAA final and the Cardinals have three representatives in the first team for their troubles.
KMS and Lac qui Parle Valley duked things out in the Section 3A tournament this season and combine for three players on this year's first team, with a number of others ranking highly on the honorable mention squad.
The first team is a young one this year with six underclassmen but the three seniors put an end to their record-setting careers with exclamation marks. This year's team also features plenty of new faces with only two returners.
The hitting this year was so impressive that multiple hitters with a .500 batting average or better guide this year's honorable mention team. That team boasts excellent hitters, defensive stalwarts, experienced veterans and names to keep an eye on in the upcoming seasons.
A bit of advice: read this year's first team (and honorable mentions) while seated. These numbers may make you feel woozy and your jaw is likely to drop. You've been warned.
Litchfield, Sr., 1B/SS
Jasmin Estrada was probably the best softball player to ever put on a Litchfield uniform after her junior season but she only further cemented her legacy with a jaw-dropping 2018. She somehow improved her career batting average to .500 after a senior season in which she hit .544. Estrada often got the Barry Bonds treatment, where opposing pitchers decided to give her first base via walk instead of hit and that was probably smart. The St. Cloud State-commit slugged 10 home runs this season to give her a career total of 32, good for third-best in Minnesota State High School League history. Her coach, Luke Braaten, says she could have surpassed that 10 home run total if she hadn't been walked 21 times this season and 60 times in her career. She posted a .640 on-base percentage and an incredible 1.691 on-base plus slugging percentage. She recorded 43 hits, 10 of which were doubles and drove in 37 runs and scored 47 times this season for the Dragons. She also openly moved to first base this year after years of playing shortstop to help her team to a winning record for the first time in years and a playoff run that ended to eventual state champions Maple Lake.
Willmar, Sr., 2B/P
Jordyn Swoboda was the senior catalyst on a strong Willmar team that came just one win shy of the state tournament this season. Though the College of St. Benedict signee missed out on her ultimate goal of state title run, the second baseman had plenty to be proud of in a high school career-ending season. She led the hard-hitting Cardinals in hits (39), batting average (.475), on-base percentage (.547), runs (36) and stolen bases (16). Swoboda provided excellent defense at second base, creating a dream up-the-middle pair with shortstop Hannah Johnson, and also stepped up on the rubber when freshman pitcher Mackenzie Jones needed a rest. "She has been a core of this varsity program for the last three years as an offensive leader and an anchor at second base," Willmar head coach Shannon Cayler said. "She is a momentum starter as the lead-off hitter and has come up with clutch hits to add runs to the scoreboard." Swoboda earned a spot on the All-State Second Team and played in the All Star Softball game following the state tournament in Mankato.
Willmar, Jr., SS
Hannah Johnson plays softball the way she plays basketball and soccer: with an effortless finesse combined with overwhelming power. Her ability to mix those two abilities with her supreme athleticism helped her earn a spot on this year's first team, as well as the All-State second team with teammate and double play partner, Swoboda. Johnson slugged a team-leading six home runs and drove in 28 runs, a number equaled by the number of times she scored on her own. She hit .456 and reached based at a .522 clip, racking up 36 hits with six doubles and two triples. Johnson is also a terrific defender, bringing a level of creativity to a tough position at shortstop and enviable arm strength. "Hannah is such a smooth defensive player who can cover so much ground effortlessly," Cayler said. "She is a natural ballplayer who has an innate sense of all aspects of the game ... Her teammates look to her to be a playmaker on both sides of the game and they often believe in themselves because of her example."
Willmar, Fr., P
Mackenzie Jones burst onto the scene this year with dominant pitching performances and exceedingly strong at-bats as just a freshman for the Willmar Cardinals. The aforementioned Cardinals played a big part in creating runs but Jones was just the pitcher Willmar needed for a big 2018 and she didn't disappoint. She posted a 16-5 record with a remarkable 153 strikeouts and just 14 walks in 121 innings pitched. She was the workhorse for the Cardinals, starting 18 games, and managed a 2.71 earned-run average and a 1.09 WHIP. She was unhittable for large stretches of the season, quite literally in an April 30 no-hitter against St. Cloud Apollo. She logged five shutouts and delivered the walk-off hit in a May 16 game against Sartell that went 2-1 in eight innings. She struck out 13 batters that day. "Mackenzie is no doubt the anchor of this team's defense," Cayler said. "Her pitching debut has been a game changer. She has such control and will use her changeup effectively to get batters out of their groove." In just one year with the Willmar varsity, she earned All-Conference honors and will have her sights set on reaching another section final in the near future.
KMS, Jr., SS/P
Setting a record for KMS softball is a pretty special feat and Katie Krieger did just that this season with her school-record 48 hits in a single season, breaking Erin Haglund's record of 44 from 2013. Nevermind the fact that some players don't reach 48 hits in a single career, Krieger sprayed the ball all over the field in Murdock and other Camden Conference locations in 2018. The junior entered the Section 3A playoffs with a batting average at a seemingly impossible .620 mark before settling in at .578 for the season, an area-best. Her .632 on-base percentage and 46 runs scored were good for second-best in the area, just behind Estrada in both categories. Krieger, a junior who split time between pitching and shortstop, wasn't just a slap-hitting on-base machine. She racked up 12 doubles and a triple, accumulating a 1.379 OPS in the process. She drove in 20 runs and stole 13 bases while also battling an injury for much of the season. The injury kept her from pitching the entire season but she nevertheless earned a 7-3 record and 41 strikeouts in 49-1/3 innings pitched.
KMS, So., 3B
KMS had a stacked lineup this season and one of the scariest aspects was its youth. Nobody represented the Saints' youth movement better than Morgan Lesteberg, a star in the making at the plate and at the hot corner. As just a sophomore, Lesteberg batted .500 with a .578 OBP. She finished the year with 35 hits, seven doubles, 24 RBIs and 28 runs scored. Each of those numbers rank among the area's best but are surpassed by some of her own Saints teammates, yet she earns a spot on this first team with her defensive ability. Lesteberg was a key defender for KMS, piling up 37 assists and 27 putouts prior to the Section 3A playoffs. KMS head coach Eileen Suter calls Lesteberg a "fearless player at third base," and her fearless nature helped her earn a spot on the Class A All-State honorable mention team.
Morris/CA, Jr., P
Morris/Chokio-Alberta needed somebody to step up after former Tribune All-Area First Teamer Brooke Gillespie graduated in 2017 and Liz Dietz did so in a big way. The junior righty was one of the most dominant pitchers in the area, sporting an area-low 1.63 earned-run average with just 72 hits allowed and a 15-2 record. Her ERA was the lowest in the area by more than a run and she was the primary pitcher for a Tigers team that allowed just 41 runs in 20 games (2.05 runs allowed per game) and featured six shutouts. Her pitching prowess alone likely earns her a spot on this year's first team but she also was mighty with the bat. The Tigers scored double digits 11 times and won by that margin 10 times, in no small part due to Dietz. She hit .450 with a .542 on-base percentage and hit three doubles and two home runs as a junior.
LQPV, Jr., P/2B
Haley Wollschlager was the destroyer of dreams in the Camden Conference this season, eviscerating foes from the pitching rubber and at the plate. Though Dietz finished the year with the best ERA, Wollschlager was arguably the toughest pitcher to put a bat on ball against. She posted a 2.22 ERA and struck out 179 batters in 104 innings, which meant 57.3 percent of the outs she recorded came via strikeout. She also managed seven shutouts and walked just 26 batters on the way to a 10-3 record for the Eagles. When she wasn't blowing it past the competition, she was reaching base and playing havoc with the opposing catchers. She hit .420 with a .512 OBP and stole 23 bases. She racked up 38 hits including nine doubles and four triples. She also smacked a home run. She scored 35 times and drove in an impressive 28 runs. She was recognized on the state level, too, joining Krieger on the Class A All-State first team.
NLS, Sr., C
Courtney Hanson was a bright spot for New London-Spicer this season, capping an excellent career in the black-and-yellow with a big senior year. She hit .492 in 2018, bringing her career average to .461, setting school records for batting average and hits (65). She logged 30 of those hits this season, including six doubles and two home runs with a .536 OBP and 1.225 OPS. She was powerful and also contact-focused, striking out just once this season. "Courtney is the best contact hitter I have ever coached," NLS head coach Melissa Bergeson said. "As a catcher, she is a great receiver. She calls an excellent game and is our leader on defense." Hanson also stepped up in the biggest moments for her team. She posted a career batting average of .560 with runners in scoring position. Bergeson looks to a doubleheader against Annandale this season where Hanson batted .667 against Sarah Johnson, one of the best pitchers in Class AA. Hanson also earned back-to-back All-Conference honors as well as a spot in the 2018 All Star game and on the Class AA All-State second team.
ACGC, So., LF
Breakout sophomore season with a .500 batting average, .569 on-base percentage and a 1.328 on-base plus slugging percentage. She hit four doubles, two triples and two home runs, driving in 20 runs with 17 runs scored and nine stolen bases.
ACGC, Sr., CF
The senior Wilner capped a strong career with a big final season, hitting .474 with a .508 on-base percentage and 1.245 on-base plus slugging percentage. She hit five doubles, two triples and two home runs with 18 RBIs and another 18 runs scored. She also stole five bases.
ACGC, Jr., P
.455 batting average with a .489 on-base percentage and three home runs. Posted a 10-5 record with a 4.80 earned run average and 69 strikeouts in 89-2/3 innings pitched.
BBE, Sr., 3B
Huge senior year with a .520 batting average, three home runs and 20 RBIs. She led the team with 34 hits.
BBE, Sr., SS/C
Versatile defender with a .342 batting average, 25 hits and 18 runs scored.
BBE, Jr., P/SS
A junior that made large strides and batted .362 with 25 hits and 15 runs scored.
Benson, Sr., SS
.424 batting average with five doubles, 18 runs batted in and 21 runs scored.
BOLD, Sr., P
.359 batting average with a .517 on-base percentage. Two doubles with a triple, a home run and 12 runs scored. As a pitcher, she posted a 3.673 earned run average and 58 strikeouts.
KMS, Jr., LF
.442 batting average, .506 on-base percentage and gaudy 1.207 on-base plus slugging percentage. She racked up 34 hits with 10 doubles, two triples and a pair of home runs with 29 RBIs and 27 runs scored.
KMS, So., CF
Outstanding sophomore season with a .500 batting average, .556 on-base percentage and 37 hits. She finished with eight doubles and two triples, driving in 24 runs with 26 runs of her own. She also stole seven bases and provided strong defense.
KMS, Jr., C
The junior catcher was a hit machine, tallying 39 hits for a .488 batting average and .554 on-base percentage. She finished with eight doubles and a home run with 33 RBIs and 25 runs scored.
Lac qui Parle Valley, Sr., SS
Strong senior year with a .449 batting average, .542 on-base percentage and eight doubles with two triples. She scored 36 times and drove in 20 runs while swiping 14 stolen bases and providing a strong glove at shortstop.
Lac qui Parle Valley, Jr., 1B
.448 batting average with a .513 on-base percentage, 1.095 on-base plus slugging percentage and 25 hits, including one home run. She drove in 26 runs and scored 27 times, stealing nine bases. She was a valuable defender with an error-free season.
Litchfield, Fr., C
.409 batting average with a .475 on-base percentage. She tallied 36 hits with seven doubles and four home runs, 32 runs batted in and 14 runs scored. Behind the plate, Stilwell posted a .981 fielding percentage.
Litchfield, Sr., P
.252 batting average with a .368 on-base percentage. She was a reliable arm for the Dragons, going 16-8 with a 4.033 earned run average and 89 strikeouts.
MACCRAY, So., P/IF
Strong sophomore season at the plate with a .448 batting average
MACCRAY, So., C
.355 batting average
Minnewaska, So., C
.413 batting average with a .433 on-base percentage, .941 on-base plus slugging percentage, 19 runs batted in and 17 runs scored. Speedy on the base paths with 13 stolen bases.
Minnewaska, Sr., P
.340 batting average and .400 on-base percentage. She hit five doubles with 14 runs batted in. She tossed 98.1 innings with a 4.34 earned run average and 81 strikeouts.
Morris/CA, Jr., SS
.433 batting average and a .519 on-base percentage with 29 hits, 18 runs batted in and 14 stolen bases. Strong defender with a .914 fielding percentage.
Morris/CA, Jr., 1B
.428 batting average with 14 hits, nine doubles, a triple and three home runs. She drove in 28 runs and scored 24 times
NLS, Jr., 2B
.379 batting average with a .441 on-base percentage, including four doubles and two triples. She drove in 13 runs and stole six bases.
NLS, So., SS/3B
.367 batting average with a .437 on-base percentage. She tallied 22 hits with five doubles, one triple and three home runs. She drove in 17 runs and finished with 15 runs scored.
NLS, Sr., 1B
.375 batting average with a .464 on-base percentage. She posted a .982 fielding percentage from first base in her senior season.
Paynesville, So., 2B
Strong sophomore season with a .315 batting average, 14 runs scored and eight RBIs. She successfully transitioned from third base to second base this season.
Willmar, Sr., C
Excellent defensive catcher that called pitches for one of the best pitchers in the area and batted .291 with 21 hits.
Willmar, Sr., 3B
Batted .333 with 22 hits and six doubles in a strong senior season at the hot corner.
Willmar, So., RF
Batted .333 in a big sophomore season, finishing the season with 25 hits and five doubles.