Grant County Herald
The West Central Area softball team opened the 2023 season Thursday, April 13 with two wins in a doubleheader against Brandon-Evansville, at the Plainview-Elgin-Millville fields in Elgin.
“We traveled four hours (one way) to play on a non-snowy field after spending a month in the gym,” head coach Vanessa McNamara posted after the game. “They showed grit as they fought from behind to win 16-6 in game one and came back from behind again to win 8-7 in the bottom of the seventh.”
The team drove nearly 250 miles one-way to play their season opener.
“Eight hours of driving, five hours of playing and a whole lot of smiles and sunburn,” McNamara said. “For not being outside yet this year and having a brand new team of only three returners, I was extremely proud of them.”
The Knights hit three over-the-fence homers Thursday, which featured WCA coming from behind in the last inning both games.
“Both games we were losing going into the last inning and had a huge last inning. In the first game, we had two outs and then rallied nine runs. The second game, we took some chances on the bases to allow ourselves the opportunity to win in the bottom of the seventh,” McNamara said.
“We are young, excited to learn, and so thankful for the opportunity to be outside…even if it meant 8 hours on a bus,” concluded McNamara. Our line up was consistent and all got better as the day went on. We brought a handful of young runners to come with us and relieve our pitchers and catchers. They stepped up, were quick, took chances and really impressed us.”
The Knights are next scheduled to open the home season with a doubleheader against Melrose Thursday, April 20, in Barrett.
The Knights come off a 2022 season where they went 9-8 overall and 7-5 in their first season in the West Central Conference.
WCA opened the year with a 12-11 loss to Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley on April 1, 2022. The Knights bounced back with their first WCC win over Minnewaska before falling to Morris/C-A at home.
WCA went on a five game win streak that included a win over Wheaton/Herman-Norcross and doubleheader sweeps over Benson and Montevideo. The Knights then fell a second time to Morris/C-A before dropping a doubleheader to Sauk Centre in early May.
In mid-May, the Knights split with Melrose before closing out the regular season with a win over Minnewaska.
In Section 3AA playoffs, the Knights were seeded fourth in 3AA-North and squeaked out a playoff win, 14-13, over No. 5 Minnewaska. WCA then fell to top-seeded Morris/C-A before being eliminated by Jackson County Central.
The WCA Knights took fourth in the conference with KJ Nibbe, Addison Staples and Alaina Sykora earning all-conference honors and Mya Foslien being named honorable mention.
The Knights lost key starters KJ Nibbe and Halle Foslien to graduation a year ago.
Vanessa McNamara enters her sixth year as head coach of the program that returns three of its top five hitters from a year ago.
The Knights are young with only two seniors, two juniors and one sophomore on the team. Claire Stark and Jasmine Floden are the seniors while the juniors are Alaina Sykora and Zoey Fuhrman. Addison Staples is the lone sophomore while the rest of the team is made up of seventh, eighth and ninth graders.
Stark, Sykora and freshman Sophie Sanstead will captain the 2023 team. Noteworthy, Sanstead is out for the season with a shoulder injury.
“Leading a team made of primarily eighth and ninth graders takes a lot of hard work,” McNamara said. “Our captains really have their work cut out with this amazing group! They all get along so well, sacrifice their bodies for the game and pick each other up when needed. I couldn’t be more proud of how our first games started!”
Stark, Sykora and Staples are the top three hitters from a year ago. Stark hit .481 on the year with 25 hits and 23 RBIs. Sykora had 19 hits with 10 RBIs and 20 runs scored after closing out the season with a .380 average. As a freshman, Staples was a top four hitter for the Knights, batting .375 on the year with 18 hits, including five doubles, nine RBIs and 13 runs scored.
Nibbe was WCA’s top pitcher last season. With her graduation last year, the Knights will rely on Stark and Lily Mahoney, who both pitched a few innings last season. Stark had just over eight innings in the circle, picking up a win.
“We were very happy with our three pitchers and two catchers – how they performed (in the season opener), especially for not being outside yet,” McNamara said. “Throwing on dirt is so different from a gym floor!”