by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
It took a little while to get accustomed to the strange surface — dirt and grass — and to the odd sensation of warm sunlight on their skin, but the Elk River softball team got its softball season off to a good start on Friday evening.
The Elks beat Champlin Park 10-0 in six innings on a two-hitter by Anna Pipenhagen at Youth Athletic Complex, celebrating Youth Night with their once-a-year evening game that’s usually about sixth outing on the schedule but this year was their opener, on April 26, delayed three weeks by lingering winter.
“It was a little weird because we were used to the floor in the gym, and the cement in the auxiliary gym,” said Kathi Opsahl, who knocked in three runs with two singles. “We were really excited to be outside for our first game and feel the warmth and just play. We were ready for it, that’s for sure.”
They played in 60 degree sunshine but it was only their third day outside, including a practice the night before and some throwing on the outfield grass two weeks earlier, a day before a snowstorm.
“It’s the same for all the teams,” said coach Stacy Sheetz about the historically late start for Minnesota spring sports. “We were lucky to get a nice day. The girls were really pumped up to play. They were a little on edge and getting pretty anxious, so it’s a good thing it came when it did.”
Sheetz added that parents helped out by chipping away ice on Thursday night and Friday. One parent noted that a pile of ice left behind that morning was long gone by game time.
A nice crowd of about 200 fans turned out to see now only the Elk varsity and younger teams start their seasons but also the Rogers Royals open against Princeton with an 8-1 win. Rogers arranged to use one of the fields earlier Friday when they saw their own field was still unplayable.
Youth Night was supposed to be played under the lights at Orono Park but the grounds were still unplayable there.
Pipenhagen, junior right-hander who was the Elks mainstay last year, gave up just two singles and two walks while striking out six. The defense behind her had a solid first game.
At the plate, Opsahl, senior outfielder, was 2-for-4 with a two-run rip up the middle in the fourth inning, and an infield hit in the sixth that plated another run. Jess Neuman slapped a two-run double in the first inning when the Elks took a 3-0 lead. Marie Deaton, freshman in her varsity debut, was 2-for-3 plus a walk, stole a base and scored three runs. Austyn Beese also had an RBI hit.
Pitching for Champlin Park were Gabby Ockuly and Cassie Meyer. Ockully, not wearing a mask that many hurlers now use, was struck on the cheek by a batted ball in the first inning and sat out a while but returned in the fourth inning.
The Elks, with their schedule backed up, are slated to play Monday through Thursday and again Saturday at a Richfield tournament. Next is a game at Anoka on Monday.