by Bruce Strand, Sports Editor
In Gabby Antolak’s long tenure with Zimmerman softball, she has never played with girls her own age. She started as the baby in eighth and ninth grade, and grew into mama bear of a young squad the last two seasons that have brought ZHS above .500 again.
The 6-foot senior catcher is hitting .540 with two homers, 19 runs and 16 runs-batted-in, while keeping base traffic to a minimum with her howitzer arm. She hasn’t made an error the last two seasons.
She’s also enjoying her role on an 8-7 team with two juniors, three sophomores, two freshmen and two eighth-graders, most of whom were also with her last year when they went 16-6.
“What’s nice about these girls is that they know what they are doing,” Antolak said. “If I have to say something, it’s just quick advice, and they will listen because ‘Gabby knows what she’s talking about.’ I love playing with these girls.”
Coach Emily Zahn says some of the girls call their catcher “Mom.”
Said Antokak, “That’s true. There’s four sophomores who are like my adopted kids.”
Zahn regards her as an ideal leader for them: “There’s no drama (with Antolak). She works hard year around. She leads by example. The last two years she’s been more vocal, too.”
Antolak has been the Thunder catcher for four seasons, after starting at first base in eighth grade. ZHS was 18-10 when she was on JV but had lean years her first three seasons on varsity — 7-16, 2-16, then 4-17 her sophomore year when she hit .393. Antolak resolved that “as long is I am having fun and giving my all,” the wins and losses aren’t so important.
The Thunder got turned around last year when all those sprites moved up and had a rousing spring capped by two playoff wins. Antolak, who batted .459 with 18 RBIs and made no errors all year, says she saw it coming: “I saw all the potential these girls had and how hard they worked.”
A few classmates used to play softball for fun but didn’t want to take it seriously, she said. That’s why she was the lone Senior Night honoree this year.
The powerful, long-limbed right-hander has a line-drive stroke, but pops a long ball once in a while, too, with five career homers. She’s been all-conference twice.
Along with her prodigious hitting, something that doesn’t show up in stats is the effect her arm has on the game, including 12 assists (runners thrown out).
“I don’t think anyone has even tried to steal against us all year,” said Zahn, “after they watch her make her throws to second in warm-ups. Also, they take pretty short leads after she picks someone off. She averages about one a game.”
Antolak has one sibling, Jake, who was conference football MVP for the Thunder, and now plays nose tackle for UM-Moorhead.
Her mother, Deann, was a catcher for Brooklyn Center. Deann was playing rec slow-pitch in Zimmerman when Gabby, at age 9, saw something that inspired her. “Mom took a ball right in the face! She spit up some blood, but she just said, ‘OK, let’s get going!’ After that, I knew I wanted to play softball, too.”
Also a two-year starter in volleyball, she was second on a 13-15 team with 169 kills and 28 blocks, and third with 28 aces, last fall. Her winter activity is serving the girls basketball team and coach Lance Dalbey as student manager the last three years. She was the school’s Triple A Award winner. She’ll play at UM-Crookston, which she chose for its equine science program; her goal is to work with horses as a veterinarian.
THE ANTOLAK SCORECARD
Personal file — Age: 17 … Family: parents Ron and Deann; brother Jake, 20 … Sports: volleyball, softball, basketball manager … Other activities: LINK, National Honor Society … Academics: 3.89 GPA … College plans: UM-Crookston, softball, equine science
Favorite stuff — Class: any history class, English literature … TV show: “Bones” and college women’s softball … Movies: “42” and “The Avengers” … Music: CW and rock … Food: Olive Garden pasta and breadsticks … Drink: ice tea … Reading: the classics, also “Casual Vacancy” … Teams: Broncos, UM-Moorhead football … Athletes: Peyton Manning, Jackie Robinson … Wants to visit: “Scotland for the scenery and the accents.”