Coon Rapids Athletic Association, CRAA’s under-15 Fastpitch softball team, the Hurricanes definitely left a path of destruction this season, the fifth summer together for most of the roster.
Coach Mike Gazelka’s coaching experience goes way beyond five years.
Now in his 35th season of coaching a sport at some level for Coon Rapids Athletic Association, Gazelka began coaching both daughters on the softball diamond before moving on to neighborhood kids and eventually grandchildren.
The recreational-level team has dominated the city-league posting a combined 42-6 over the last two seasons at the 14U and 16U levels.
Gazelka said the team has prided itself on consistent defense, rather than simply using the bat to win games.
He pointed to outfielder Kacey Isle’s arm to throw out base runners combined with catcher McKenna Ackermann’s ability to tag out runners at home plate and the defensive range of shortstop Ashley Ingerbritson.
Pitcher Sophia Sabby not only pitched every game this summer but baffled the opposition with a rare knuckleball.
“I told her to get one strike and then throw it because by the time they stop looking at [the ball] it’s already past them,” Gazelka said about the knuckleball. “I don’t know how she learned it but the ball just pops out of her glove without any spin.”
Offensively, the Hurricanes have been led with Sabby, first base man Angela Birr, Ingebritson and Sarah Hamilton. Each is batting over .500.
In 2012, the 14U club went 16-0, winning the regular season title and post-season tournament. They ended the summer with a 4-1 record while adding a USSSA-sanctioned state tournament title in the 14U rec division.
The current Hurricanes began playing together in third grade.
This year the Hurricanes joined the 16U ranks with nine players from Coon Rapids High School, three from Blaine High School and two from Anoka High School and compiled a 22-12 overall record.
They compiled an 11-1 regular season mark followed by a 3-2 record in the post season city tournament, losing twice to an 18U team made up of juniors and seniors. The Hurricanes lost in the finals 3-2.
Away from regular-season competition, the Hurricanes tested the waters in two state-level tournaments and qualified for another national tournament.
The first tournament came July 13-14 at North St. Paul for a USSSA-sanctioned event, going 5-3 and placed second in the 16U rec division. The squad lost Saturday to fall to a lower bracket before winning four games in a row to reach the championship in a span of 6.5 hours.
The following weekend was a second state tournament, this time an ASA-sanctioned state tournament in Burnsville in a 16U division against mostly club-level traveling teams. Coon Rapids uncharastically struggled defensively and went 0-3.
For the third weekend in a row, Coon Rapids hit the road for a tournament, July 27-28 with Mankato the host community for the ASA-sanctioned 16U national championship. Once again, the division included many traveling clubs and the Hurricanes finished with a 2-2 record. The three division tournament (12U, 14U and 16U) had at least 30 teams to make for some crowded brackets. Coon Rapids dropped one game in pool play to a former national champion and came up short in the bracket portion of the tournament to the previous champions, Jurgen’s Printing (Watertown, S.D.), 7-6.
Coon Rapids came back from a 7-1 hole in the seventh inning to score five times before stranding runners on second and third base to end the game.
“We saw that we belonged and could compete with these teams,” Gazelka said.
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