If high school teams could accept sponsorship deals, Starburst might want to check out the Anoka softball team.
What started out as a home run incentive of being tossed a Starburst from fourth-year coach Toni Jesinoski has blossomed into a reward for reaching third base.
No doubt Jesinoski was digging deep into her industrial-sized candy bag for Starbursts after Anoka outscored Park Center and Maple Grove by a combined 36-0 in the final day of the regular season.
“It’s an incentive they like to do,” Jesinoski said, adding two Starburst for a home run and one for reaching third base.
“That has been awesome,” senior Megan Lindenfelser said. “I stole third (base) just because I wanted a Starburst.”
Anoka marked Senior Day with a pair of five-inning blowouts to enter the Section 5AAA tournament on a 16-game winning streak and a 17-2 regular season record.
“They have fun at the plate and it can also go against us,” Jesinoski said.
The day was also marked by multi-colored chalk messages scrolled on the inside of the dugout to thank the seniors for their contributions.
Offensively, Anoka came ready to play as sophomore Morgan Paaverud went a combined 6-for-10 and with three doubles and drove in six runs. She also scored five runs.
Fellow senior and leadoff hitter Dayja Rosario went 3-for-3 against Park Center including a home run and drove in three runs. She finished the day driving in five runs.
Not only have the bats been red-hot for Anoka but pitching and defense have played a large role leading to eight shutouts and a second place finish in a very competitive Northwest Suburban Conference.
Amber Elliot struck out nine, walked two and gave up two hits in five innings against Park Center.
Senior captain Megan Lindenfelser followed with a one-hit win against Maple Grove in the second game. She struck out six and walked one in five innings.
Maple Grove won the conference, one game ahead of Anoka with a 14-1 mark compared to 14-2, essentially making the game a time for less-experienced players to see some action during a busy stretch of time.
Anoka lost twice in the first three games of the season including a 3-1 loss at Maple Grove in the season opener, April 14 and 8-7 to Andover, April 22.
With such a compact season, Jesinoski would like to spend more practice time with the younger players, “Some of my ninth graders have come through so they’re thrown into the fire,” she said. “So we’re going by trial by fire.”
Jesinoski didn’t anticipate anything less from the team given its recent success.
Since 2009, Anoka has lost to Forest Lake in the Section 7AAA four times including a heart-breaking 8-7 score in 10 innings in 2011.
Now defending state champion Elk River is in the section to only add to the drama. Anoka won both meetings this season.
When Jesinoski moved from an assistant coach to head coach role with the Tornadoes, she knew the base was set for success and moving along with the group of seniors from the lower high school levels through varsity has yield plenty of success.
“Having them the entire time has helped but the base was already there and they knew what Anoka softball was like so we just continued the tradition,” Jesinoski said.
Lindenfelser and Rosario said knowing the underclassmen helped the team bond that much quicker ahead of the season.
“I’ve known some of them since they were really young from siblings or clinics we helped run and see them at Anoka-Ramsey tournaments,” Lindenfelser said.
Rosario said: “It doesn’t feel like they’re freshman. We do have to guide them in traditions and how Tornadoes softball is played rather than summer softball.”
Another standout stretch of games came in winning the Becker Invitational May 3. Anoka outscored the opposition 42-2 in three games, shutting out Park Center and Chisago Lakes in the process.
Lindenfelser and Elliot have done a good job of limiting balls in play.
“Our defense hasn’t gotten a lot of practice,” Jesinoski said. “It kind of seems like when Megan’s on the mound or Amber is throwing really well and they don’t get the ball in play the defense gets a little complacent and all of a sudden a error will happen and it will snowball. Sometimes it might be better for them to put the ball in play to challenge us a little bit more.”
Lindenfelser and junior Taylor Chell have been the leading batters for the team with .521 and .510 batting averages respectively. Rosario leads the team with 26 hits and Paaverud emerged with 25 hits and a team-high 11 doubles. She also sits second on the team with 25 RBIs trailing only Lindenfelser’s 29 runs driven in and seven home runs. Chell has scored a team-high 32 runs.
“The hitters who have come in, like Morgan has really improved a lot and come through with big hits at key times as has Makayla Zimmer and (junior) Monica Sjodin,” Jesinoski said. “I think people might have overlooked (Monica) and she’s come through and swings the bat very well for us.”
Sjodin has 16 hits and scored 15 runs so far this season.
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