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GGF softball preview: Both East Grand Forks programs start fresh with new coaches

Both East Grand Forks Senior High's Anthony Walsh and East Grand Forks Sacred Heart's Sam Bales enter their first season as head coach of the respective programs.

The Sacred Heart Eagles and the East Grand Forks Senior High softball teams faced off at Lafave Park Tuesday afternoon in East Grand Forks. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald
The East Grand Forks Sacred Heart Eagles and the East Grand Forks Senior High softball teams faced off at Lafave Park in a 2019 game in East Grand Forks.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald
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EAST GRAND FORKS — The two high school softball programs in East Grand Forks will have new faces this spring – both on the field and in the coaching box.

East Grand Forks Sacred Heart’s Sam Bales and East Grand Forks Senior High’s Anthony Walsh both begin their first season as head coach this year.

Walsh was previously head coach of the Green Wave baseball program for five seasons, while Bales is new to Sacred Heart after coaching traveling softball in the Minneapolis area for a few years.

“It’s exciting,” Bales said. “I’ve heard what Sacred Heart has done in the past. It’s exciting to try get that program back to where it was.”

Both programs are hoping to improve on losing records from a year ago, when the Eagles won six games and the Green Wave eight.

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“It’s getting these girls to love softball,” Walsh said. “We know that with the inexperience we have, we know there’s going to be ups and downs, and it’s about finding as many good things as we can game to game. We know things are going to get better.”

The Eagles have started this season 0-3. Bales said the key to building the program is growing softball at the younger levels.

“We’re trying to develop more of a summer league program for kids,” Bales said. “When fifth and sixth grade hits, then they’re starting to look at softball. Once you get that younger group, you can start working on mechanics. You work with them so when they get to be seventh and eighth graders, they understand everything you’re throwing at them.”

Both teams are developing a young pitching staff this season. Sacred Heart returns senior Grace Loeslie with some experience, then will work to grow freshman Maddie Dolan and eighth-grader Izzy Chewalka.

“Maddie has potential to be very good,” Bales said. “We have some young talent to develop. Two of our first three pitchers are brand new to varsity.”

For the Green Wave, senior Kendra Emery returns with experience but the program is filled with youth after that.

“We have some freshmen that have pitched, but it’s about getting them some experience and working with them on a daily basis,” Walsh said.

The Wave have 15 freshmen out for softball, seven juniors and just a handful of upperclassmen.

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“When I say we’re young, we’re young,” Walsh said. “They’re a very good group. They’re an athletic bunch and very capable of putting things together. I look forward to working with that group for future years. Hopefully, they can learn from the upperclassmen and ride their coattails for now and see how far those upperclassmen can bring us.”

GGF softball at a glance

GF Red River

Coach: Hannah-Rose Rodriguez.

2021 record: 5-12.

Key returners: Soph. IF-P Rylie McQuillan; soph. OF Ella Weippert; fr. IF-P Taylor Kilgore; eighth-grader P-IF Ella Speidel; jr. 1B-IF Emma Rixen; jr. IF-P Elizabeth Nuelle.

Top newcomers: Fr. IF Brooklyn Soderberg; fr. 2B-OF Mya Mannausau; eighth-grader IF-P Amy Jacobson; eighth-grader C-IF Ella Nelson; seventh-grader P-IF Jocelyn Berg; fr. IF-C Rylein Kachena, fr. OF Brooke Dorsey; fr. C-IF Rebecca Sather.

Coach Rodriguez says: “So far, we’re excited with our young talent. We’re excited about our pitching staff. It’s the first time since I’ve been here where we have more than two pitchers. Between our two teams, we have about seven girls who can throw effectively. We’re excited about being strong in the circle. Our varsity is strong with body-strength from working in the weight room this offseason. That started us off really well (in our first game). Rylie hit her first out of the park home run for us last night and our one through nine hit the ball so hard – harder than I’ve seen them hit up until this point. Obviously, we always think with a young team there’s some growth and we’re excited about that but it’s also a part of the team that might need work and we’re ready to work through that.”

GF Central

Coach: Brittany Baker McNelly.

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2021 record: 12-14, state qualifier.

Key returners: Sr. P-1B-OF Ashley Gereau; sr. OF Maggie Grabanski; sr. 1B-OF Madeline Stangl; jr. SS-2B-P Brooklynn Ramsey; jr. 3B Morgan Tebelius; jr C-OF Ramsey Petron; jr. 2B-OF Bella Beauchamp; soph. 1B-OF Allison Dub; fr. Jillian Pulkrabek.

Top newcomers: Fr. OF Emily Gereau; fr. C-OF Ava Hensrud; fr. P-1B Aubrey Hensrud; fr. C-OF Calleigh Carl.

Coach Baker McNelly says: “I feel like I’ve been with this group for a long time. We have a lot of returners, so they know the day-to-day and ins and outs of the program. The kids have been doing really well with that. This group of girls wants to play and learn, which is awesome. They fuel each other. It’s a great group of girls. They’re fun and have a great group of personalities. I wouldn’t have any other team.”

EGF Senior High

Coach: Anthony Walsh.

2021 record: 8-12.

Key returners: Sr. Kendra Emery; sr. Elizabeth Holte; jr. Claire Beck.

Top newcomers: Sr. Kalia Compos, jr. Nevaeh Garner; soph. Kate Cantera; fr. Karlee Walsh; fr. Ellie Marcott; fr. Emma Marcott.

Coach Walsh says: “Obviously, we lost a lot of experience from last year. We have a lot of new faces coming into the program. There’s going to be bumps in the road early, and we’re going to take the three weeks of the regular season and fight as hard as we can to get better.”

EGF Sacred Heart

Coach: Sam Bales.

2021 record: 6-15.

Key returners: Sr. Grace Loeslie; jr. Dez Martinez; jr. Haley Vonasek; soph. Samara Zimprich.

Top newcomers: Fr. Maddie Dolan; seventh-grader Leah Sundby; fr. Avery Holthaus; eighth-grader Lilly Muller; seventh-grader Teegan Rye; fr. Emily Novak; eighth-grader Izzy Chewalka.

Coach Bales says: “We’re extremely young, but I'm extremely impressed with their dedication to improving. Our goal is to improve every single game and every single pitch.”

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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