by Bruce Strand, Sports Editor
Anna Pipenhagen started playing softball in fourth grade when her dad, Jon, taught her the basics of pitching, using oversized bat and ball toys, on her grandparents’ lawn. In grade school she was a little twerp, but very determined to make her mark as a pitcher. After an empowering growth spurt at age 13, she had an excellent JV season in ninth grade.
The next spring, Pipenhagen was handed the ball by Elk River coach Stacey Sheetz. She’s been the Elk mainstay the last three years.
A robust 5-foot-8 right-hander with 33 career wins and 341 strikeouts, Pipenhagen was one of the main reasons the Elks were state Class 3A champions last spring. One of eight returning starters, she is listed by the Star Tribune as one of the top metro players to watch this season.
“We have been lucky to have many pitchers that each had certain strengths,” assessed Sheetz, who also coached a state champion team in 2009. “Anna offers great strength, endurance, multiple pitches, great mental game, as well as being a top hitter for the Elks.”
Pipenhagen has thrown 10 shutout innings this year, with 18 strikeouts, in two games. Coming off a good 2013 season at the plate, she’s hitting cleanup, and had two hits and three RBIs against Centennial.
The St. Cloud State recruit said her primary goal is the obvious one, to return to state and try to win it again. She also has individual quests: “I’d like to beat my strikeouts record and have less walks than last year. And hit better. Coach has me hitting fourth, and I would definitely like to stay there.”
Pipenhagen was 12-11 with a 2.55 ERA as a sophomore, on a 14-12 team that lost in the section finals. She wasn’t a factor at the plate yet but worked hard on her hitting with her summer team.
In the state championship season, Pipenhagen posted a 19-3 record and 1.29 ERA, setting team records for wins, shutouts (seven) and strikeouts (184 in 146.7 innings). She also batted .315 with 21 RBIs and two homers.
At state, she hurled every inning as the Elks beat Orono 2-1, Forest Lake 9-3 and Prior Lake 4-3, while hitting .333, and made the all-tournament team. Capping it off, she was named to the coaches’ all-state team.
Pipenhagen has good velocity but seldom throws a straight fastball. “Maybe a couple a game, if I really need a strike,” she said. Instead, she thrives on ball movement, peppering hitters with an array of screwballs, curves, risers, sometimes drops.
“That riser gets them swinging because it looks like a good pitch to hit coming in,” Sheetz said. “The curve breaks out and they just miss. The screwball is a good inside pitch.”
Pipenhagen was a seventh-grader when the 2009 team won state.
“It’s awesome to know that the way I looked up to those girls,” she reflects, “that there are girls out there looking up to us, making this their dreams, too.”
The capper is that Pipenhagen and her cohorts have a legitimate chance to do it all again.
THE PIPENHAGEN SCORECARD
Personal file — Age: 17 … Family: parents Jon and Deb; brothers Aaron, 20, and Alex, 14 … Sport: softball … Other activities: Future Educators Club … Academics: B average … College plans: St. Cloud State, softball, elementary education
Favorite stuff — Class: Team Sports in P.E. … TV show: “Don’t have time to watch.” … Movies: “Pitch Perfect” and “Bridesmaids” … Music: country, especially Luke Bryan, and whatever’s on 94.5 FM … Books: “My Sister’s Keeper” and “The Fault in Our Stars” … Food: Chipotle fare, especially chicken burrito bowl … Drink: Powerade, blue or red … Team: Gopher softball, Twins … Athlete: Jenny Finch … Wants to visit: “Someplace tropical.”