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Four Pirates and two Raiders named state all-stars

Six high school softball players from Taylor County earned the privilege to be called Wisconsin all-stars. Unfortunately, they won’t get to show off their talents in the actual games.

The Wisconsin Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association Senior All-Star Games are among the many sports casualties of the coronavirus pandemic as the June event in Wisconsin Dells was canceled.

The games would have featured two Medford Raiders and a team-record four Gilman Pirates.

Catcher Alex Nicks and infielder Brynn Rau were announced by the WFSCA as Medford’s representatives in Division 2/3 games. Gilman would have sent catcher Grace Grunseth, infielders Jaiden Sedivy and Montana Birkenholz and pitcher Katie Webster to play in the Division 4/5 games.

Both programs have a long history of sending players to this event. Gilman sent as many as three players in 2016 (Breana Piekarz, Morgan Birkenholz and Emily Johnson) and in 2015 (Shaelan Schmitt, Brooke Webster and Kendall Skabroud). Tori Lammar was Medford’s last representative in 2017. In 2016, the Raiders sent a big group of three with Brooke Walsh, Jenice Clausnitzer and Sydney Elsner.

“For them to miss out on that is a shame because it’s a neat experience,” said Medford head coach Virgil Berndt, who was also selected to be one of the Division 2/3 coaches. “It’s kind of relaxed and laid back, but it’s a neat experience. To get honored and finish out wearing that Medford uniform down there is pretty cool.”

Gilman head coach Brian Phelps, of course, had a similar reaction.

“We’ve had years where we’ve had three girls down. This was the first time we would’ve had four going,” Phelps said. “At one time, you could’ve had all four girls out there and it would’ve been almost half the team just from Gilman.”

“It’s quite an honor and there are kids that are really quality kids that do get missed,” Berndt said. “It takes a lot to get recognized.”

While the official all-star event is gone, WFSCA member coaches are able to register seniors that want to play for a Senior Showcase the association has tentatively planned for Wisconsin Dells Aug. 3-4. Both local teams are likely to be represented if the event happens.

“I’d give anything to see these girls back on the field together one more time,” Phelps said.

About the all-stars

Nicks was a unanimous selection for the 2019 All-Great Northern Conference first team after gaining honorable mention as a sophomore. In her second season as Medford’s starting catcher, she posted a .962 fielding percentage last spring with 21 assists and only five errors at the position.

Offensively, she hit .371 in 12 GNC games (13 for 35) with two doubles, a triple, a home run and 11 runs batted in. Overall in 23 games, Nicks hit .386 (27 for 70), with five doubles, a team-high three triples and two homers, which tied Rau for the team lead. Nicks and Rau also tied for the team lead with 20 runs batted in.

Nicks, voted last year’s team MVP, is planning to try out for the softball team when she attends UW-River Falls next school year.

Rau was a second-team All-GNC pick last spring and earned honorable mention as a sophomore.

She hit .286 in conference play (10 for 35) with nine RBIs and 10 runs scored. Overall, she had a .351 batting average (26 for 74) with 21 runs scored, a triple, two homers and 20 RBIs.

Rau earned the team’s Defensive Play- er of the Year award for her play at shortstop. The strong-armed Rau finished with an .853 fielding percentage with 53 assists and 28 putouts in 95 total chances.

“They’re a couple of kids that were players right away as freshmen and turned into just quality leaders who played their positions well,” Berndt said. “Alex is probably one of the best catchers in the area. Brynn she’s got an arm at short that’s as good as anybody’s.”

Berndt said he was looking forward to big seasons from his all-stars, not to mention the entire senior class and team, which he thought was primed to make a move after an 11-12 season a year ago. He hoped a third senior, pitcher/first baseman Rachel Mudgett, would get an allstar nod as well.

“I was hopeful for that because she was just as deserving,” Berndt said. “It’s a timing thing and a position thing I suppose. With that group of seniors with what we had coming back, there would have been competition everywhere. I was really hopeful for a nice season.”

Four more Great Northern Conference players were selected to be Division 2/3 all-stars. They are Alicia Turunen of Antigo, Paige Wicklund and Kyla Osowski of Mosinee and Haley Voermans-Dean of Tomahawk.

The members of Gilman’s all-star quartet all played major roles in getting the team to the WIAA Division 5 state semifinals last spring. Grunseth, Birkenholz and Sedivy were first-team All-Eastern Cloverbelt selections, while Webster made the second team. Grunseth and Birkenholz were also WFSCA All-District selections.

Grunseth also is a Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Division 5 All-Star. It’s hoped that game will be played Aug. 5 in Wisconsin Dells.

Grunseth took over as Gilman’s starting catcher as a freshman and never looked back, culminating with a junior season where she hit .432 overall (35 for 81) with three homers, four doubles, two triples and a team-high 32 RBIs out of the leadoff spot in the batting order.

“She came in and we needed a catcher,” Phelps said. “She stepped in as a freshman and she did a really nice job for us. Softball was one of those things that seemed to come naturally to her. Not that there hasn’t been growing pains. She’s hard-working, dedicated, always has a smile on her face. That’s one of the things that makes her easy to work with is she’s willing to listen, willing to try new things.”

Birkenholz and Sedivy solidified Gilman’s infield with strong play at second base and shortstop, respectively. Birkenholz seamlessly moved from the outfield to second base as a sophomore and Sedivy made a strong return that year from a devastating ankle injury she suffered as a freshman.

Last year, Birkenholz finished with a .489 overall batting average (43 for 88) that included 10 doubles and two homers. She drove in 21 runs, scored a team-high 32 runs, drew 11 walks and was hit by a team-high six pitches. She finished with a robust on-base percentage of .566.

Sedivy finished with a final batting average of .451 (32 for 71) that included six doubles, a homer and 18 RBIs. She scored 20 runs and with eight walks added in, ended with a .506 on-base percentage.

“If there’s one thing I truly appreciate about Montana it’s her willingness to come and talk to us as coaches,” Phelps said. “She’s kind of a quiet leader on our team. She’ll come to us when things aren’t working right or something and let us know if she has concerns. She has a great work ethic. She brings it every night. She’s always inquisitive and trying to look at things. Obviously on the field her range and her skill set really helped anchor us at that second base position.

“Jaiden’s such a physical force,” Phelps said. “She’s kind of imposing out there and yet she’s a really sensitive kid. When she steps out on the field, this confi dence comes out and you can just see it. Her and Montana had this great communication going last year. You just expected things to continue to grow this year. She just plays with passion. She loves the game and she plays the game hard.”

Webster got notice with a big junior season both at the plate and in the pitching circle. She led the Pirates with a .515 batting average (34 for 66) that included seven doubles and 19 runs driven in. Her on-base percentage was an impressive .578.

Webster teamed up with then-sophomore Addy Warner to provide Gilman with a strong pitching duo. Webster led the way by going 12-1 overall during the season with a 1.57 earned run average. She struck out 92 hitters, walked 34 and allowed only 56 hits in 84.2 innings pitched. Of the 39 runs opponents got against her, only 19 were earned.

“Katie just works her tail off,” Phelps said. “You feel bad for her and Addy because they didn’t want to quit pitching last fall and I basically told them, ‘guys you can go out and pitch all you want, but you really need to take a break and take a little time away.’ Come December, they wanted to start throwing again. They were throwing two, three nights a week.

“Katie constantly wants to get better. She loves to win and she hates to lose.”

Gilman had more all-stars than the rest of the Eastern Cloverbelt Conference combined. Greenwood’s Amanda Bogdonovich and Alexis Oestreich made the Division 4/5 list, while Neillsville’s Ellie Moseid is a Division 2/3 all-star.

With a nine-member senior class and some solid younger contributors back from last year’s 21-5 team, the Pirates had high hopes coming into 2020.

“With team success comes individual recognition,” Phelps said. “Without everybody, these four young ladies wouldn’t have been recognized for the all-star team. ... These four girls, the senior class as whole, the underclassmen and those that graduated all are part of these awards. The accomplishments they had last year, it helps make this all possible.”