by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
A season of dramatic turnaround by the Zimmerman softball team continued as the Thunder thumped Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted 10-0 in their playoff opener Monday.
Freshman pitcher Ashley Pool fired a five-inning one-hit whitewash with 10 strikeouts in the Thunder’s home finale.
Sophomore Abby Canton went 3-for-3 with two runs, freshman Carlie Lage had four walks and three runs, and junior Gabby Antolak was 2-for-3.
The Thunder are 15-4 on the heels of a 4-17 season last year, with pretty much the same roster, and it’s still a young team, with three senior captains and one junior starter, four sophomores and two freshmen.
“We were hoping (to turn it around). It was a matter of whether the kids would put in the work in the off-season,” said coach Emily Zahn. “And they did. Plus, with this extended winter this year, we spent an extra month hitting in the gym, working things out with our swings.”
Antolak, who’s hitting just under .500, is a fourth-year starter, three of those at catcher.
“Our defense is much improved this year, and it’s really nice to have Gabby back there,” said Zahn.
Antolak, also a middle hitter on the 21-7, section runner-up volleyball team, said she was “very proud” of how hard the softball players worked to prepare for this season.
About her pitcher, Pool, Canton assessed: “She has really improved with hitting her spots, and she is a lot quicker than last year. She’s a freshman and she’s striking out seniors who’ve been playing (varsity) for years.”
Senior captains are outfielder Katelyn Bauer, second baseman Morgan Feldick, and first baseman Heather McCormick.
Unfortunately, McCormick, who was having a strong senior year, broke her little finger in the final regular-season game at Mora last week, when it got tangled with a base-runner. She’ll miss the playoffs.
“It’s sad to lose Heather,” said Zahn, who put Canton, her designated hitter, in the first base slot.
Feldick was 1-for-2 plus a walk and sac bunt, Ashley Ryding delivered a sac fly, in the win over HLWW. Taking the loss was Samantha Loebertmann.
The Thunder, seeded third among eight teams in the west half of Section 5AA, will duel either No. 2 Maple Lake or No. 7 Litchfield in Maple Lake on Wednesday at 4 p.m. The Maple Lake-Litchfield game was rained out Monday and moved to Tuesday.