There’s a new girl in town and she’s in a league of her own! Milbank has launched their inaugural season of girls softball.This is the first year South Dakota sanctioned girls fastpitch as a high school sport and about 50 teams from across the state joined the league.
“We are quite honored to be the start of this brand-new sport added to the spring activities schedule in South Dakota,” head coach Nancy Hoeke said, “To be the first ever fastpitch softball team for Milbank High School and have the opportunity to be part of history is quite special.”
The 2023 roster lists 16 Lady Bulldogs:
Junior – Abigail Pillatzki; Sophomores – Josselyn Garcia, Addisyn Krause, Ixtal Macias, Shelbi Pollock, and Josie Riveland; Freshmen – Joce Kettwig, Ashlynn Lamp, Allie Meyer, Kaia Tillotson, and Kenna Wellnitz; Eighth graders – Macyn Dunnihoo, Hallee Green, Heyden Montag, Macy Mueller, and Kennedi Sayler. Hoeke is assisted by coaches Nicole Berg and Amber Siderewicz.
“Of the 16 girls, only two have played fastpitch,” Hoeke explained. “A few have played summer rec softball, but many have not played at all or haven’t played since they were in tee-ball. So, there’s a lot of learning to get done.”
Like baseball, pitching is one of the most important aspects of the game. Hoeke said, “Ashlynn Lamp has pitched fastpitch so she has an idea. We also have a couple of other girls working on it for the first time. They are learning and improving fast. It is challenging both physically and mentally, but I’m guessing many of the teams we play will be in the same situation.”
In regard to offense, hitting in particular, Hoeke says, “We have been practicing in the elementary school gym, so we’re not taking any full swings off pitched balls.” She also noted the Milbank players did not have a lot of opportunities to practice in the batting cages this spring.
“Right now,” Hoeke said, “The team’s strength is battling together. They support and encourage each other. In our first game (against Mobridge), we were getting our butts kicked on the scoreboard, but they kept cheering each other on and being excited for the first hit, the first out, the first ‘almost’ double play, the first slide… Everything they do is ‘a first’. The players, parents, and fans are tuned into that, which is great.”
“As coaches, we also have a lot to learn – teaching the skills, learning strategies, and rules. We have an idea about these things, but not having coached in fastpitch, I’m sure things are going to come up that will catch us off guard. We have and will continue to ask a lot of questions and seek guidance from a few experts (mainly with baseball backgrounds), who are graciously willing to help.”
According to Hoeke, she coached youth softball and tee-ball for the Aberdeen Parks and Rec when she was in college. As she grew up, she played slowpitch and really loved the game. “I decided I wanted to play and pitch for Northern State University, so I learned to pitch fastpitch the summer before my freshman year,” she said, “I was on the team four years, and I did some pitching my junior and senior years.”
She also said she had harbored hopes of coaching softball for a long time. Minnesota has offered it at the high school level since the late 70s. She had an interest in teaching there after she graduated from college, but it never worked out. “So this is an awesome opportunity to do it now!” she said.
Many of the girls who joined MIlbank’s inaugural team feel the same way. Hoeke polled a few of them to ascertain what prompted them to jump on board.
Macyn Dunnihoo replied, “I wanted to try something new and make new teammates. I played softball in the summer and really enjoyed it. It’s a big deal to be a part of this first team for Milbank’s school, and I wanted to support it. The experience so far is going great, and I would recommend softball to others.” Joce Kettwig said, “I wanted to try something new, and it sounded like fun.”
Allie Meyer answered, “I have always had an interest in softball, but never imagined myself playing until this year. I’ve found out how great an opportunity it really is to try something completely new.” Meyer’s thoughts were echoed by Josie Riveland, who said, “I wanted to try something new, and the second I heard I could play; I took it! My dad played baseball in high school, and it’s another way to bond with my dad. I have also made a bond with girls I didn’t even know before the season started.”
Addisyn Krause agreed, “Baseball has been a big thing in my family. I now get a chance to play ball, too.” Ixtal Macias said she had played softball and missed it. “When I heard there was going to be a team, I knew I had to be part of it!”
Ashlynn Lamp said she decided to be part of the team because she had played softball at the school she attended before moving to Milbank. “I loved playing softball. When I heard Milbank was going to have a team, I was ecstatic! I also wanted to meet other girls that have the same interests as I do.”
Hallee Green added, “I have enjoyed playing softball since I was really little. I thought about making great memories, and that we would make history as the first fastpitch softball team for Milbank’s school.”
“The girls are definitely coming together and getting to know one another better every day,” Hoeke commented. “I’d say most of the girls weren’t close friends and didn’t hang out before this season. So taking a chance to make new friends and teammates is part of this softball season, too. I really enjoy seeing them have fun together and forming new friendships.”
“I’m just really proud of these girls for taking a chance and being relatively confident they can do this and figure it out,” Hoeke concluded. “They don’t even know what they don’t know, and they aren’t afraid to dive in!”
Milbank has 11 games scheduled this spring before the season winds down to the state tournament. In South Dakota, there are three classes AA, A, and B. The playoffs (SoDak16) pit the top teams against each other on Tuesday, May 23. The top eight from each class play in their respective state tournament. All three tournaments will be held June 1-3 in Aberdeen.
Who knows? Maybe one day a Lady Bulldog will play in the WPF.
Women’s Professional Fastpitch (WPF) – unrelated to the defunct league that used the names National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) and Women’s Pro Softball League (WPSL) – formed in 2022. So far, it features four teams: the Oklahoma City Spark, the Smash It Sports Vipers from Oxford, Alabama; the Texas Smoke from Austin; and the USSSA Pride from Viera, Florida.
But first, what’s next for the MHS girls fastpitch softball team? The Lady Bulldogs travel to Flandreau on Friday, April 28 to play a game that was originally scheduled for April 13. First pitch is at 4 p.m.
Photo Courtesy of MHS