ALL-AREA TEAM: Strong seasons raise hopes for 2015
Local softball teams had a banner year in 2014.
The Solon Springs Eagles and Northwestern Tigers both captured conference crowns.
For Northwestern, it was the team’s second straight season sweeping conference play.
For Solon Springs, which tied with Hurley to share the Indianhead Conference title, this year’s championship was the first in school history.
“A very talented group of teammates went out and finally got that banner they have worked very hard for,” said Dale Rajala, Eagles head coach.
Superior and Northwood also had successful seasons. Both finished second in their respective conferences and made strong runs in the offseason. The Evergreens advanced to the regional finals, and the Spartans won the regional title to advance to the sectional semifinals.
The Northwestern Tigers also claimed a regional title — their first since 1981 — before falling to the 2014 Division 2 state champion, Mosinee, in the sectional semifinals.
Joining Superior’s Kaitlin Heinen on this year’s Superior Telegram All-Area Softball Team are three seniors, three juniors, two sophomores and a freshman.
Also nominated were Superior senior Rachal Fregin and junior Gabby Gidley; Northwestern sophomore Samantha Clark and freshman Laryssa Vik; Solon Springs senior Ashley Johnson and sophomores Karly Sutherland and Phoenix Thomas; and Northwood juniors TeLaura Harings and Hannah Henson.
On defense this year, the Northwestern softball team looked to infielder Hailey Eller for stability. The senior anchored the team at first base and was a true leader for her young teammates.
“Hailey is a ‘Golden Glove’ type of player every coach would love to have on their team,” said Scott Janigo, Tigers head coach. “Hailey has exceptional hand-eye coordination along with great understanding of the game. She helps direct traffic in the infield and takes on a leadership role.”
Eller was a co-captain for the Tigers this season and was named the team’s most valuable defensive player.
On offense, she batted .407 with a .535 on-base percentage and a .741 slugging percentage. She finished the season with six doubles and two home runs.
Eller was named to the Heart O’ North All-Conference first team as an infielder.
Not many freshmen step up in their first season of varsity play to become an ace pitcher.
Brandie Goldberg did just that for the Spartans, finishing the season with a 15-5 pitching record.
“Brandie was our workhorse on the mound,” said Amy Zembo, SHS head coach. “It’s not easy being the No. 1 pitcher and as a freshman; she really maintained her composure in the big games.”
Goldberg had a 2.026 ERA for the season with 157 strikeouts. She held opponents to a .188 batting average and was named to the Lake Superior Conference All-Conference second team.
“She has a bright future ahead of her if she maintains her work ethic,” Zembo said.
For the past two seasons, sophomore Lexi Janigo has been Northwestern’s starting catcher. In that time, the Tigers have not lost a single conference game.
“This was Lexi’s second season as catcher,” said coach Scott Janigo. “As a freshman she exhibited great leadership qualities and a passion to play the game. This was on display this season as she helped lead a young NHS softball squad into the postseason.”
Teams did not steal on Lexi Janigo, Scott Janigo said.
The sophomore was also an important part of Northwestern’s offense. She batted .530 with a .644 on-base percentage and a .833 slugging percentage. She finished the year with nine doubles and one home run.
“Lexi will be part of an exciting future for Northwestern softball,” Scott Janigo said.
Lexi Janigo was named the Tigers most valuable player on offense and was also named to the HON All-Conference first team as a catcher.
The Solon Springs softball team will be hard pressed to replace senior Alicia Jensen next year.
“Alicia has been a four-year starter for us,” Rajala said. “She is a great softball player. Her leadership and ability to make impact plays all year made a huge difference in our season.”
Jensen played a variety of positions for the Eagles, including shortstop and both catcher and pitcher.
The senior compiled a 5-0 record on the mound in conference play.
On offense, she had 20 RBIs batting cleanup for the Eagles and finished the year with a .491 batting average to go along with five doubles and two triples.
“She was always willing to play any position and never missed a practice,” Rajala said. “She went above and beyond what a coach expects in a player. I am very proud of all she brought to our program.”
Jensen was named to the Indianhead All-Conference first team and was also the conference’s Player of the Year.
Sophomore Cheyenne Johnson had a tall order to fill this season.
She spent her freshman year as the Tigers’ No. 2 pitcher at the junior varsity level, but this year she took over as the varsity squad’s top pitcher.
“Cheyenne worked very hard in the offseason in preparation for 2014,” Scott Janigo said. “Her hard work paid dividends for our NHS softball team.”
With Johnson on the mound, the Tigers finished 14-0 in the HON Conference for the second straight season.
“Largely because of Cheyenne,” Janigo said.
Another first for the team was getting past Rice Lake in the regional finals. It was the first time since 1981 that Northwestern claimed a regional title.
“Again, Cheyenne played a huge role,” Janigo said.
Johnson finished the season with a 17-4 overall pitching record. She had seven conference shutouts, 156 strikeouts and threw a no-hitter against Hayward.
At the plate, Johnson batted .366 with a .410 on-base percentage and a .451 slugging percentage.
Johnson was named to the HON All-Conference first team as a pitcher and was named the Tigers’ Co-MVP.
Jessica Lindstrom took on a new challenge for the Spartans this year, moving from third base to shortstop to fill a gap in Superior’s roster.
“Moving to shortstop was a smooth transition for her,” Zembo said. “She is so quick with everything she does; whether it’s getting to a ball, her release or her bat and foot speed there is nothing slow about her.”
Lindstrom was a team captain for Superior this year and was named to the LSC All-Conference first team.
The senior batted .326 with 16 RBIs and 23 runs scored. Among her 30 hits she had six doubles, one triple and two home runs.
“Jessica was a steady player for us this year,” Zembo said. “She did the little things that sometimes don’t show up in the scorebooks.”
In her third year as a starter, junior Tailor Schuster came through for Superior at the plate and in the field.
“Tailor is just a solid all-around player,” Zembo said. “She plays her position well and was our leadoff hitter most of the season.”
Schuster drove in 23 runs from the leadoff position while batting .337. She had a .369 on-base percentage, a .561 slugging percentage and scored 24 runs.
The junior finished the season with 33 hits, including seven doubles, three triples and three home runs.
“She has power like no other,” Zembo said. “The ball comes off the bat with some serious velocity.”
Schuster was named to the LSC All-Conference second team.
Northwestern’s Madeline Spangenberg continued her rampage on the basepaths this season.
The junior now has 92 career steals, including 27 this year.
But the Tiger infielder didn’t rely solely on her speed. Spangenberg showed an enormous upswing in power this year to finish the season with a mind-boggling 1.181 slugging percentage. She counted eight home runs and 12 doubles among her many hits this season.
Spangenberg batted nearly .600 (.597) from the leadoff position and held a .678 on-base percentage, striking out only four times this season.
Late in the season, Spangerberg also showed her grit by playing through injury.
“Madeline played the last two games of the season with a badly sprained wrist,” Janigo said. “She had trouble catching and holding the bat but battled through the last two games to help the Tigers complete a very successful season.”
Janigo added that Spangerberg had “few if any errors” at shortstop and helped lead the team as a co-captain.
Spangerberg was named to the HON All-Conference first team and was the Tigers’ Co-MVP and Playmaker.
“Madeline will be part of an exciting future for Northwestern softball,” Janigo said.
For the Northwood Evergreens, junior McKayla Waggoner held opponents in check this season from behind the plate.
“She was a strong catcher,” said Beth Block, Northwood head coach. “Teams respected her ability behind the plate.”
Waggoner was named to the East Lakeland All Conference team as a catcher.
On offense, Waggoner led the team in stolen bases and batting average with a .526 average. She also had an on-base percentage of .651, batting near the top of the order.
The junior finished the season with four triples and five doubles.
“McKayla had a great season,” Block said.