Sterling softball coach Bob Knudson admits he is glad Strasburg has graduated several key cogs from the Indians’ back-to-back Class 3A state championship squads.
“They (Strasburg) have had our number the last couple of years,” Knudson said. “They had a dominating pitcher in Logan Losh. We never were able to get anything going offensively.”
The Sterling Tigers reached a softball championship game for the first time in the program’s history last October at Aurora Sports Park, only to have their district rival score a 3-0 shutout victory. The win gave Strasburg a perfect 24-0 record as the Indians claimed back-to-back state titles.
Sterling gave Strasburg one of its toughest tests of the season with the Indians taking a 7-4 victory in 12 innings.
“We battled really hard during that game,” said Sterling senior pitcher Dallas Magnusson, who pitched 11 innings in the epic game. “Coach (Knudson) kept us all relaxed. We all stayed positive. Even when it came to the end and we lost. We stayed positive.”
The two-time defending 3A state champs graduated a trio of all-state players in Losh, Danni Klein and Vic Wilson. Despite those losses, Knudson still has high regards for the Strasburg club that has a 6-0 record against Sterling during the past two seasons.
“They are very well-coached and will put out a really good team again,” Knudson said.
Sterling has plenty of returning pieces from its squad that finished with a 19-5 record and was the 3A state runner-up. Magnusson, an all-state selection last season, is back for the Tigers. Magnusson will lead Sterling’s pitching contingent that includes juniors Kylie Ross and Alexis Rutz.
“We have three really good pitchers,” Knudson said. “I’m not afraid to use any of them in a game.”
Magnuson had a 10-2 record last season with a solid 1.38 ERA. The Tigers’ offense wasn’t shabby either. Sterling scored double-digit runs in 13 games last year. Juniors Jenna Knudson and Rutz combined for 77 hits, 69 runs and 47 RBIs last season.
“I think our team is going to be amazing this year,” Magnusson said. “We are a really good group of girls. We all click together as a team.”
Before advancing to the title game last year the Tigers made it to the 3A state quarterfinals in 2012. Valley — eventual state runner-up — ended Sterling’s postseason run with a narrow 1-0 victory.
Magnusson points to Valley and Eaton as a pair of conference rivals that will be tough again this season. Sterling split a doubleheader against Valley and came away with a couple of one-run victories versus Eaton last season.
“We are just really excited,” Magnusson said. “We can’t wait for that first practice and first game to begin.”
While on paper the Tigers look like a logical favorite to take the next step and win its first state softball title, Sterling’s coach knows it’s a long road to the championship game.
“We hope it’s our year,” Knudson said. “Softball is a funny sport. One bad game or a great game by the other team can change everything.”
Class 3A softball
Defending champion: Strasburg
Returning All-State players: Bridgette Hutton, Sr., P/SS, Valley (1st); Dallas Magnusson, Sr., P, Sterling (1st); Jenna Knudson, Jr., INF, Sterling (1st)
Regular season begins: August 15
Playoffs begin: October 11
Championship: October 17-18 at Aurora Sports Park