Hawley small in size, but big on defense
Hawley, Minn. - The Hawley softball team is fairly certain height-wise the Nuggets are the shortest team in the Minnesota Class 2A softball tournament, with only three girls taller than the team’s 5-foot-2 average.
“Dynamite comes in small packages,” Hawley catcher and captain Jolene Kerr said.
Being closer to the ground might even help Hawley field ground balls, as the Nuggets have committed 20 errors and given up just 16 earned runs in 21 games this season.
“Every year we come into the season saying you can win a game against any opponent if you can hold them scoreless,” said Hawley coach Anita Heier, who has been coaching the Nuggets for the last 10 years. “All you have to do is score one run and you can win a game.”
Heier’s philosophy has brought the only softball state trips in Hawley history, as the Nuggets have now made it to state four times since 2009 and three times in the last four seasons. It’s a philosophy that has the Nuggets allowing 1.5 runs per game, which is tied for fourth in Minnesota.
“Our focus every year is play defense, play defense play defense and see what happens on the offensive side,” Heier said. “We’ve always had some good defensive teams, but the difference with this team is our quickness. We can get to some more balls this year that we haven’t in the past. We have so much speed at a bunch of different positions this year.”
Hawley suffered a big blow to the Nuggets’ fastest player, starting center fielder and senior captain Monday at practice. Bailee Carlson broke her right hand, forcing the Nuggets to have to find a new general in the outfield. Offensively, no one on the team had more runs, hits or extra-base hits than Carlson.
“Senior year and making it to state…this is the worst thing that could have happened,” Carlson said. “I wish it didn’t have to be this way.”
The mindset of Hawley is made for this situation and picking one another up.
“We’re confident in our defense and we’re confident in each other,” Hawley pitcher and captain Jody Noreen said. “We know what balls we can get to and what the people next to us can get to. We’re just all together, and we got each other’s back all the time.”
If there’s anyone who is appreciative of the defense behind her, it’s Noreen. On the mound, she’s 12-2 with a 0.77 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 73 innings pitched.
“It takes so much pressure off knowing they got your back,” Noreen said. “I can just throw and I can know that the defense will be there all the time.”
Defense is not the only thing instilled in Hawley softball players at an early age.
“Defense has been drilled into us from our coaches since fifth grade. That along with team,” Hawley catcher and captain Jolene Kerr said. “We are very team-oriented. It’s just like a family setting. It’s nice to know they have your back.”
The Nuggets may have one another’s backs, but they aren’t content with simply getting back to state.
“Usually we go down to state and say, ‘Hey this is a great experience. Let’s have fun. Let’s enjoy ourselves,’” Heier said. “I think because this is our fourth time down there there’s a different mindset. They want to actually win the tournament.”
Hawley has two girls cross country titles in 1989 and 1991 and a girls track title in 1989 that the Nuggets shared in a co-op with Ulen-Hitterdal.
As for why the Nuggets can get a softball title to call Hawley’s own, Noreen had a simple response.
“Why not?” Noreen said. “That would be something special.”