PREP SOFTBALL: Greyhounds have high hopes again
NEW ULM – The careers of New Ulm senior standouts Lisa Helget and Paige Pautzke have been nothing short of remarkable.
The two have been on varsity since the ninth grade and both of them ended each season with a trip to the state tournament.
They team up for the Greyhounds yet again in their senior year, hoping to lead the Greyhounds to another Tomahawk Conference title and another trip to the Class A State Tournament.
“Obviously going to state was one of our big goals that we wanted to achieve,” Helget said of last year’s third-place finish. “We did that, and while that loss to Blooming Prairie was hard (in the semifinals of the state tournament), to be able claim third place and get that medal, that was good for us.”
Last year, Helget ended up with 43 hits, second all-time in school history, and she hit .478. She also scored 27 runs, had 22 RBI and had nine doubles.
“I want to work on my hitting, last year I almost broke a school record and I was just a couple of hits from breaking that mark,” Helget said.
While Helget had no problems at the plate, she did have to learn a new position. Prior to her junior year, she played at first base, but moved to shortstop last year.
The shortstop position is probably the most demanding position on the diamond, but Helget made the transition with ease.
“It was kind of a tough change, because I really got used to first and I really liked it,” Helget said. “With [Coach Bob] Mertz and [Assistant Coach] Jamie Portner, they helped make it more comfortable at the position and they realized I could play shortstop.”
She didn’t realize how demanding the new position was at first. She learned as she played and got some tips from the coaching staff as the season went along.
The toughest part was the mental preparation for the position.
“It took a lot because at first base, you pay attention but [not as much],” Helget said. “At shortstop, you gotta know the cut-offs and you gotta know where you’re going to throw the ball and how many outs.”
Helget and Pautzke teamed up well in the middle for the Greyhounds.
“We kind of know how to work with each other,” Pautzke said. “We talk to each other out there, so it was kind of nice out there.”
Pautzke led the Greyhounds with 30 runs scored and she hit .407 with 37 hits and 17 RBI. The second baseman teamed with Helget to form a solid infield up the middle for the Greyhounds.
Now a leader on the team, she remembers the days when she was the new kid on the block.
“I remember being kind of quiet and not really knowing my place,” Pautzke said. “I actually thought I wasn’t going to make varsity my first year and when I did I was really happy. But I remember being really scared and now it’s just a lot more relaxing and I can have fun.”
Besides the two seniors, the Greyhounds have six juniors to help carry the load.
Catcher Karlee Pfaff hit .371 last year and third baseman Mackinnon Ehlenz wasn’t too far behind her at .364. Abby Hauser, Abby Berg and Lindsay Simon will play in the outfield and Kristin Mohr will play at first base.
Sophomore Anne Schwarz will play center field after hitting .464 with two home runs last year. Freshmen Jenessa Rothmeier (OF) and Morgan Schabert (IF) will see time along with freshman pitcher Leah Krzmarzick, who will start the opening game for the Greyhounds. Mohr will also pitch for the team this year.
With not a lot of experience coming back at the pitching spot, Mertz said that the biggest question mark this year is probably the pitching.
“That’s one of our concerns, we’re going to see two pitchers that haven’t seen a lot of varsity pitching,” Mertz said. “I think Kristin was 5-0 last year and Leah also pitched a game for us last year. Leah throws a little harder, she’s pretty accurate and we’re stronger with her on the mound.”
Mertz said the quality of pitching in the conference is stronger than it has been in a long time. Teams such as Wabasso, Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s and Cathedral should contend for the Tomahawk title, with Mankato Loyola being one of the favorites in the section.
With the talent coming back from last year’s squad, the Greyhounds have high hopes again.
“We want to go out and be Tomahawk Conference champs, and obviously we want to go to state and we want to try to get back into that first place spot again,” Helget said.
The Greyhounds are supposed to open the season on Tuesday when they host Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s, but that will probably be postponed.