The Rochester Community and Technical College softball team is 27-14 on the season and ranked at number four in the national Division 3 top ten as they finish the regular season schedule on Thursday, April 30, hosting a doubleheader with Riverland College, a team the Yellowjackets swept in their first matchup back in early April.
The 27 wins so far have come in spite of having a very young roster and a first-year head coach in Niki Peterson. The Jackets took a doubleheader from Minnesota West Community and Technical College to start the final week of the regular season on Tuesday. Peterson said they played well.
RCTC softball coach Niki Peterson (Photo from rctcyellowjackets.com)
“It’s helps when your pitching is that on,” said Peterson. “We hit the ball well, and we’ve done that most of the season, except when we’ve faced some of the tougher Division One and Division Two competition. Overall, our hitting has been pretty solid all year.”
She said the Yellowjackets are a threat to take the ball deep up and down the lineup.
8 of the 9 players in the RCTC starting lineup have at least one home run (Photo from rctcyellowjackets.com)
“I think everyone in our starting lineup but one has at least one home run,” said Peterson. “We have power, but we also have some speed on the base paths. Ashley Bunting (Redwood Falls, MN) is actually leading the nation in stolen bases with 62.”
The roster doesn’t contain a lot of experience at the college level. “We only have five sophomores on the roster,” said Peterson, “and only four are in our starting lineup. The other one is out with a torn ACL.”
“Coming in as a first year head coach, I just didn’t know what to expect,” said Peterson. “I knew the sophomore class because I was an assistant coach last year, and I knew their capabilities. With all the knew faces coming in and they weren’t my recruits, I just didn’t know a lot about them.”
Peterson added, “Two of our best players this spring are walk-ons. Kristen Erickson is a J-M (Rochester John Marshall) graduate who I actually recruited two years ago, but she took a year off and came back. Amber Gehrke is a Zumbrota-Mazeppa graduate who reached out to me and said she’d just been attending school and decided she wanted to play.”
On-field leadership is coming from a recent Stewartville high school graduate.
“Christina Stanger is a freshman who plays like a four-year senior,” said Peterson. “She leads this team off the field and on the field too. She leads vocally, physically, and keeps the team in the game mentally. She’s an all-around leader, and to have her doing that as a freshman is great for me as a coach, but it’s also great to have her for another season.”
One of the sophomore leaders is catcher Katie Gatzlaff, a native of Springfield, Minnesota. Peterson said, “Katie runs the show behind the plate, and the team relies on her experience for leadership out on the field at gametime.”
A deep pitching staff is another strength of this spring’s team.
“We actually have five pitchers,” said Peterson. “They’re all very capable and could be starters for other teams in our conference. The two leaders on the staff are Alexis Schunke (Stewartville MN) and Laura Chalmers (Red Wing MN). Alexis actually threw a perfect game in our second win over Minnesota West on Tuesday.”
Peterson added, “She was just on. She hit her spots, and that was obviously the best she’s thrown all year.”
The Yellowjackets head to postseason action after the final doubleheader on April 30.
“We’re off to regions,” said Peterson. “It’s next week, on May 7 and 8. The conference champion will host the tournament, so as games wrap up this week, we’ll find out where we’re going.”
Update: The YellowJackets finished the season by sweeping Minnesota West in a doubleheader, winning game one 11-1, before taking the nightcap 19-3 to finish the season at 29-14.