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Prep softball: Superior on a roll headed into state tournament

The Spartans have won six straight and allowed just two runs in four previous playoff games headed into their state quarterfinal game against Cedarburg Thursday.

Superior catcher Emma Raye (27) is backed up by teammate Melania Luostari (33) as she guns out Cloquet’s Roena Diver (1)
Superior catcher Emma Raye (27) is backed up by teammate Melania Luostari (33) as she guns out Cloquet’s Roena Diver (1) after fielding a bunt in the first inning of the game at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex in Superior on Monday, April 11. Raye's defense and field awareness have helped the Spartans find success this season.
Jed Carlson / 2022 File / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — Emma Raye’s sixth inning two-run home run looked to be the perfect exclamation point to Superior’s sectional championship win at Stevens Point Thursday, June 2.

Raye’s two-out shot over the centerfield wall gave the Spartans a 7-0 lead and full command in the sixth inning.

Except two batters later, Melania Luostari repeated the feat. With a runner on first, Luostari hit her own long ball over the fence to make the lead 9-0 and remove any doubt about the winner.

Raye’s season has been dominant by any stretch of the imagination. She leads Superior in nearly every offensive category by a wide margin.

She leads in batting average (.545), RBIs (24), home runs (6), stolen bases (15) and her runs scored (33) is nine more than second-place Luostari.

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However, it’s the category where she doesn’t lead the Spartans that should scare opponents in the state tournament that starts Thursday: walks.

The Spartans have a deep lineup with four other players who have at least 60 at-bats and batting averages of .333 or better this season, including Luostari with a .471 average. In addition, Superior has six players besides Raye with a minimum of 14 RBIs in a season that was marred in the early going with weather-related cancellations.

The bat of Superior’s Indigo Fish (5) curves around the ball
The bat of Superior’s Indigo Fish (5) curves around the ball as she makes contact during the Spartans' playoff victory over Wausau East at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex in Superior on Tuesday, May 24. Fish is one of seven Spartans with at least 14 RBIs this season.
Jed Carlson / 2022 File / Superior Telegram

With Raye’s speed and the consistency throughout the batting order, opponents can’t walk the Wisconsin recruit because when she gets on base, chances are she’ll end up back at home before the end of the inning.

“I think we’re very fortunate that we do have a strong lineup, because any one of them could carry the team on that particular day,” Superior coach Mike Sather said. “Any one of the nine could get a key hit or make a key play somewhere and that’s probably going to be the difference in the games coming up. Obviously, the probability is higher when you have nine people that can do it.”

The Spartans (19-2) will play eighth-ranked Cedarburg (24-4) in the Wisconsin Division 1 quarterfinal at 2 p.m. Thursday, June 9, at Goodman Diamond in Madison.

While the Superior hitters have been very good, they will face a nearly unprecedented challenge in Cedarburg pitcher Paytn Monticelli. The 6 foot, 2 inch Wisconsin commit has a 0.33 ERA and 303 strikeouts this season and throws in the mid-60s, according to Sather.

“We really do have our hands full,” Sather said. “We’re going to have make some contact, and if we don’t, it’ll be a long day for us. It’s going to be an uphill battle right from the beginning.”

But here’s the thing, the Spartans might be better defensively than they are at the plate.

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The Spartans have allowed just 23 runs all season and pitcher Haley Zembo has a 0.48 ERA in 18 appearances this season. Zembo hasn’t allowed an earned run since a 9-6 win over Watertown May 14.

What’s more, Raye, a catcher, has the ability to pick runners off if they stray too far from base. Raye ended the Spartans’ 6-0 win over Waukesha East by picking a runner off on first base in the top of the seventh inning.

Besides Raye and Zembo, the Spartans have a strong infield that lets few balls through and commits even fewer errors.

Superior’s Haley Zembo (20) fires a pitch in the second inning
Superior’s Haley Zembo (20) fires a pitch in the Spartans’ 5-0 win over the Rails in Proctor for the Lake Superior Conference title Wednesday, May 18. Zembo has an ERA of .48 so far this season.
Jed Carlson / 2022 File / Superior Telegram

“We’re a battery package and we work really well together, but at the same time we have such a strong defense,” Raye said. “Not a lot of teams know about it because Haley has been pretty much lights-out. Even when other teams do put the ball in play — when they even try to bunt to get on — we usually execute our plays which overall makes us a successful team.”

In the Spartans’ current six-game win streak, they’ve allowed just two runs in their sectional semifinal win over fourth-ranked Chippewa Falls.

Even if Superior doesn’t advance, the state tournament will be valuable experience for a team that will return eight of nine starters to the field next season, including Raye and Zembo.

“It’s a great feeling,” Raye said. “We have three freshmen in the lineup, we’re still pretty young. Next year, we’ll have a pretty big graduating class with me, Haley and Indigo (Fish), but I just know getting the experience at state and seeing this high level, it’s only going to help us next year.”

More from Jamey Malcomb
The Superior supper club wasn't exactly what sports reporter Jamey Malcomb expected, but it left him with questions and plans for a return.

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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