Young Dakota Prairie squad gets first taste of varsity pace in loss to Harvey-Wells County
In returning back to the field for the first time in two years, a lot of teams around the state are returning with a lot of youth. Sophomore's two years ago are now senior leaders and freshman were still in junior high. For Dakota Prairie softball, a lot of its team is still in junior high.
Out of the 16 person roster making up the Knights softball team, 11 of them are still in junior high. And they have experience playing softball but at a different pace. Tuesday afternoon's season opener against Harvey-Wells County was the first time that a lot of the team was seeing a fast-pitched game.
"We're young. That was their first fastpitch game, and it showed in the box that they were nervous," Knights head coach Benjamin Morris said. "I was happy about the way we fielded. We had a few little mistakes, but it was the first game of the year. It was a good base for us. I was happy with the way it ended. The score wasn't good, but it's a good thing to build on."
Dakota Prairie would face off against a heavy swinging and quick Hornets squad that would build upon a lead early and never look back. Harvey-Wells County leaned heavily into deep shots to the center outfield, eventually mounting at a 23-1 win over the Knights. However, despite the score, Dakota Praire was mainly focused on improving one facet of their game at a time, which was fielding on Tuesday.
Throughout the game, the Knights did see their in-field game progress. In the top of the fifth inning, Dakota Prairie would manage to throw out three Hornets at first base, cutting off another scoring surge from HWC. However, while the in-field remained steady, the Hornets would continue to blast out to the outfield, allowing them to run up the score.
Hornets senior Emily Schmitz would two off an in-the-park home run, highlighting HWC's speed throughout the day. The Hornets would see their scoring edge come to a peak in the fourth inning, seeing them bring in eight runs off of eight hits.
"Our first step needs to be back, not forward in the outfield," Morris said. "We were getting burned on that because my center fielder was taking two steps in and not two steps back. We just need more reps. We should be getting everyone together soon. It's mainly just footwork stuff we need to work on."
While it was a splash of cold water into the faces of the Knights in making an adjustment from slowpitch to fastpitch, and getting back into the swing of things for veteran players, Dakota Prairie found some confidence behind the bat in the final inning. Eighth-grader Nevaeh Huso would find her way on base after a walk and would eventually record the Knights only score of the game, taking advantage of a drive from senior Brianna Dinger to score.
Dakota Prairie wouldn't pick up a hit in the game but would see them take advantage of walks. Huso and senior Paytan Lippert would steal second and third in the fifth inning in that scoring sequence, seeing Lippert almost score before being tagged out to end the game.
"Right after that first at-bat everyone was scared and then they started swinging and doing what we've been teaching," Morris said. "They were getting more confident, putting the ball in play and having more fun. I was glad at the way they turned around. That line drive at the end, before that she was swinging at the ball before it got to the plate."
Despite the score, Morris said that his team's confidence never dwindled throughout the game. There was a little bit of fear in heading up to bat for the first time for some and a while for everyone else, but adjustments throughout the game showed improvement.
"I just wanted to make sure that they knew that they were doing a good job," Morris said. "I was proud of them. I didn't know what to expect, but I was happy that no one was down. They were kind of at the beginning because it was their first varsity game, but everyone started to get behind each other. Everyone was smiling in the end."
Even closing out with a score to snap a shutout bid helps the Knights according to Morris. Dakota Prairie was in another scoring position in the first inning as they would load the bases off of three straight walks, but saw junior Haleigh Lematta find her grounding for three straight strikeouts. She would finish the day with eight Ks
"Even to steal one there at the end, it'll build it the game on Thursday against Pembina," Morris said. "Once we got that one the dugout was kind of jumping around a bit. It was good to see."
While the bats eventually found their way as the game progressed, the pitching found some stability as well. After losing all of their pitching talents heading into this season, like a lot of positions, the Knights are working from the ground up in developing performance from inside the circle. Junior Daveigh Sailor would play the entire game, seeing HWC score 23 runs on 21 hits, walking eight.
"We are young and I lost every pitcher I had before, so we have to develop," Morris said. "She was the only one willing to do it, so we just have to go into practice and do some more stuff. We'll get there. She just needs some more confidence. She had more in the last inning."
Dakota Prairie faces Pembina County North on Thursday in its second of only four home games this entire season. With having a new focus every game, and taking things one step at a time, Morris said that the Knights are moving to their performance on offense in their next game.
"We are going to be focused on gap to gap hitting and just more leading with our elbow instead of our hands to get that loop out of the swings," Morris said. "We just want to swing all the way through and building on the way they swung at the end of the game, so we can fine-tune some hitting stuff."