Goliath wears red in North Dakota Class B softball. Central Cass is seeking a 5th consecutive state championship and the Squirrels have the talent returning to accomplish that rare feat. But there are teams in my top five that had chances against Central Cass last year. Will we see the dynasty continue or a new program reach the top?
My top five teams are below along with bubble teams. This year, I’ve added my “extra innings” portion which offers a brief preview of additional teams that submitted a response to my preseason questionnaire. If you don't see your favorite team listed it's because I didn't receive a response from the questionnaire. Thank you to all the coaches who took the time to respond! Enjoy the preview and let’s play ball.
Class B Softball
1. Central Cass
It’s a no-brainer to list the Squirrels at the top as they pursue a 5th consecutive state championship. Central Cass returns six starters from last year’s title winning team that finished with an 18-4 overall record. Underclassmen will have to step in and replace the trio of seniors lost including last year’s outstanding senior athlete of the year Peyton Nelson, but with the way Scott Kost has constructed this program I don’t see that being an issue. It starts with pitching and defense for this group. Afterall, they allowed just six combined runs in last year’s state tournament. Senior Tori Richter returns coming off a junior campaign in which she finished 11-2 with a 1.49 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 84.33 innings pitched. Richter is just as good with the bat in her hands hitting for a .447 batting average last spring to go with 26 RBI. Fellow seniors Catie Sinner (.400 BA, 3 HR, 22 RBI) and Camry Nelson (.350 BA, 1 HR, 15 RBI) will be major contributors in the lineup, as well. Central Cass just pulled off the basketball state championship sweep. Could they do the same on the diamond this spring? It wouldn’t surprise me.
2. Renville County
The Mavericks were three outs away from stunning Central Cass in last year’s state semifinal, but Peyton Nelson’s walk-off two-run home run put an end to Renville County’s title hopes. After falling in the state semifinal round in two straight seasons, the mission is clear. This group wants to play for a state title. You won’t find a more experienced group in the state. Everyone from last year’s 4th place team returns for head coach Garrett Wible. “If we can make sure we are taking care of the little things, our big goals will be attainable”, says Wible. Junior pitcher and returning all-state pick Ginger Savelkoul was lights out in the circle a year ago. She logged 79+ innings with an ERA of 1.32 and 191 strikeouts. She can throw a variety of pitches: fastball, curveball, screwball, riseball and changeup. Savelkoul (.388 BA, 2 HR, 26 RBI), senior Ellie Braaten (.549 BA, 2 HR, 18 RBI, 42 runs, 29 SB and named all-state) and junior Addison Mach (.410 BA, 2 HR, 20 RBI, 36 runs, 23 SB) help power one of the state’s more dangerous lineups. The Mavericks team speed is what can set them apart. When they get on the basepaths they’re aggressive and have a knack for making teams pay for their mistakes.
For the second straight season Kindred-Richland has just one senior to replace. Two years ago, it was Abby McDonald and this year it’s catcher Matti Burchill who finished her prep career as an all-state pick. I slotted the Vikings at #5 in my preseason poll last year and that ended up being too low as they reached the championship game for a fifth time in eight seasons finishing runner-up to rival Central Cass. This year’s squad is once again thin on seniors with Oivia Matthys and Abby Robinson being the only players with that distinction. Expect returning all-state pick Braya Mauch to be the driver of the offense. She hit over .400 last year and was right around 20 runs scored. Junior P/1B Danica Rath carried the team in the circle with a 1.89 ERA last spring. The Vikings have a group that’s played a lot of softball together, which certainly gives them an advantage when Mother Nature condenses the season.
Add the Miners into the mix of teams that placed in the top four in state last year and return a ton of talent. The region four champs finished 22-7 last year and took down Renville County for a 3rd place finish at state after falling to Kindred-Richland 6-3 in the semifinal round. The Miners graduated two starters off last year’s team but return a pair of all-state picks in senior P/SS Taylor Christensen (South Mountain CC commit) and freshman P/SS Addie Dale-Geiger. Taylor led the pitching staff in 2022 with a 0.69 ERA and 187 strikeouts in 90 innings, while Geiger boasted a 1.33 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 63 innings. Christensen (.512 BA, 6 HR, 27 RBI, 44 runs) and Dale-Geiger (.446 BA, 3 HR, 43 RBI, 49 runs) also paced the offensive attack for Beulah. All-region pick Ava Seibel played a huge part in the offensive success last year as a sophomore by posting a .377 BA with 28 RBI and 24 runs.
One thing is for certain about MayPort-C-G. The Patriots can score some runs. They were one of the top offenses in the state last year and return three players that took a .500 or better batting average into the state tournament last season: juniors Danica Hanson, Maysa Larson and Rylee Satrom. Pitching is where they’ll need to make some strides if they want to be in the state championship conversation. Satrom and Hanson will likely lead the way in the circle. The Patriots are going to be an exciting group to watch this spring. We’ll see if they can improve on last year’s fifth place finish under new head coach Keenan Konschak who takes over for Tim Spurgeon.
The Tommies are coming off a seventh-place finish at state and return seven starters from last year’s team. Maybe all those sevens will bring them some luck in 2023?! Head coach Matt Chandler views his pitching as a strength with both Sydney Schwabe (9-4, 74.2 IP, 3.56 ERA, 92 K) and Dru Schwab (6-3, 52.2 IP, 3.59 ERA, 50 K) returning after strong sophomore campaigns. Those two are also among the team’s hitting leaders along with senior catcher Olivia Dick. The UND commit hit .385 last year with five doubles and 15 stolen bases. Coach Chandler is hoping to see the team improve their discipline in the batter’s box, “our focus is at the plate, reducing our number of strikeouts and driving in runners.”
Senior pitcher Olivia Passa was a popular name when I asked Class B coaches to name the top players in the state and for good reason. Entering the state tournament last year, Passa was batting .529 at the plate with 28 RBI and 30 runs scored to go with her 1.09 ERA in the pitching circle. The Aggies need her to replicate those numbers this season as the team looks to replace five seniors. Look for junior OF/P Cienna Clemens and senior shortstop Berkely Selzler to step into larger leadership roles this season for head coach Bryce Gutknecht.
Des Lacs-Burlington/Lewis & Clark
The Lakers are hoping to add to their streak of consecutive state tournaments by making their seventh straight this season. Under the guidance of head coach Peggy Person, the Lakers finished 14-6 last year but failed to win a game at state. That’ll certainly help motivate a group that returns six starters. Look for players like Logen Ystaas, Shaylie Holen, Zannah Bjerklie, Cambrey Benno and Kaelyn Bachmeier to lead the offense. Pitcher Sierra Yale returns after posting a 4.02 ERA as a 7th grader last spring. If the Lakers can develop their young pitching they should have a good shot at being among the elite eight at the end of the season.
The Spoilers know they’re in for a challenge playing in the same region as Thompson and MayPort-C-G. Grafton returns junior Nicole Johnson as their starting pitcher. Look for junior 1B Addison Fredericksen, junior SS Siri Olson and sophomore OF Emma Johner to take a step forward as returning varsity starters. Head coach Courtney Hernandez feels the team needs to improve their hitting to be successful in 2023.
Hankinson-Fairmount-Campbell/Tintah-Rosholt-Lidgerwood is a mouthful and they’re hoping to be a handful for opposing teams in 2023. The Pirates were the only team to defeat Central Cass in the postseason. They defeated the eventual state champs in the opening round of the region tournament, 4-2. The bad news was that they fell one run short of Kindred in the semis before losing to the same Central Cass squad in a state qualifier. The team will have to replace the production left behind by a couple of six-year starters and a very successful senior class. Mike Loll is excited about the return of his pitcher/catcher combo returning. Junior Kirstan Loewen pitched 70 innings last year and racked up 85 strikeouts. Junior Kylee Falk, the team’s leading hitter each of the last two seasons, returns as a tone-setter for the offense.
The Hornets are on a mission to make their first state tournament. The team has a strong senior class with a trio of players committed to play at the next level. Brynn Lesmeister (.400 BA, 13 RBI), Kayme Bartz (.333 BA, 1 HR, 13 RBI) and Jadyn Mason (.256 BA, 10 RBI, 19 runs) are all committed to play softball at Bismarck State College. Head coach Justin Lematta really likes his young pitching. Sophomore hurler Ebony Heilman is “looking to add consistency to her ever-growing arsenal of pitches.” The Hornets can accomplish their goal of making state if the team can support its young pitchers with some solid defense and good run support.
In just its 2nd year of existence, the Hazen fastpitch team won five games. The Bison are looking forward to a new season that’ll feature some promising young offensive talent led by all-region 2nd team performer Ava Jungers (.500 BA). Head coach Brent Hysjulien knows what the next step needs to be for his team to compete consistently. “We need to find a pitcher to throw strikes and on the back end of that we have to be ready to play defense when the other team puts the ball in play.”
The Burros finished 2-9 in a short season last year, but all those losses were suffered at the hands of top-10 caliber teams. Head coach Cory Erickson says, “Last year with our youth, we started to put things together late in the season but just weren’t able to get enough innings in with the short spring to make everything click.” HCV returns eight starters from last year including senior all-region pitcher Serrina Klose (44.2 IP, 72 K; NDSCS commit). Klose was effective offensively hitting .500 and driving in 10 runs last season. Sophomore shortstop Kailee Kittelson (.444 BA, 9 RBI, 11 runs) is another weapon for an offense that’ll strive for consistency this spring. This group also played together over the summer and had success and they’re hoping that momentum carries over.
Entering their fifth season as a varsity program, the Polar Bears are still seeking that first postseason win. They graduated their best player from last year’s team but return everyone else including senior 2nd baseman Mercedes Hoverson who was named all-region honorable mention in 2022. Sophomore Addison Dietzler will be tasked with leading the team’s pitching staff.
It’s year one for Nedrose/Surrey, so learning might be just as important as winning for this inexperienced group. Fred Mueller is in charge of getting this squad schooled up and ready to compete this spring. Some players on the roster have been able to gain experience playing summer ball for the Minot Storm.
Despite fielding a team with just two sophomores and the rest junior high age, the Jays finished 5th place in region 3 last year. Ray also had its chances to make noise at the region tournament but suffered a pair of one run losses to ultimately end their season. The good news is that everyone is back and a few seniors that were injured last year will give the team an added boost. The teams top returning hitters are freshman OF/1B Autumn Bloms (.542 BA, 1 HR, 14 RBI, 7 SB) and 8th grader SS/P Brinlee Cancade (.516 BA, 1 HR, 14 RBI, 13 SB). Cancade and Maddix Falk (32 IP, 4.11 ERA, 57 K) will be the rotation in the circle.
The Pirates finished 6-12 last season but did reach the final four in regionals despite having to win a play-in game to qualify for the tournament. Sarah Skarphol’s team returns seven starters, most of which have played together for a minimum of two varsity seasons and played summer ball together last summer. “They have strong team chemistry and experience playing with each other. I believe their strengths would be fielding ability and determination”, says Skarphol of her team. Junior SS Payton Raan and sophomore P/2B Katie Haakenson both hit over .500 last year and will be expected to lead the offense in 2023.
Filed Under Power Rankings | Varsity Sports | ND High School | Baseball/Softball