GLYNDON, Minn. — Continuity and experience has made all the difference for the Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton softball team this spring. The Rebels have won each of their first nine games and are ranked No. 4 in the latest Class 2A statewide coaches poll.
While other teams in the state may be trying to find a comfort level with new teammates and new faces, the Rebels don’t have to deal with any of those unknowns. The whole team played together on their club team last year and every single player is back.
D-G-F estimates it played well over 100 games together last year between summer ball and fall ball. There weren’t any tournaments to play in Minnesota, but they got plenty of action crossing over into North Dakota where the COVID-19 restrictions were looser.
“We were allowed to play with each other. We were able to prepare for this season,” Rebels junior pitcher Mallory Leitner said. “We have everyone returning that we played with last summer. We got a good look at who would be playing where and how well we can play together.
“It definitely helped to have all those games in the summer and get all that experience playing against good teams. And working hard in the offseason to prepare to play against good teams and those hard hitters.”
Shortstop and leadoff hitter Evelyn Moe said playing all of those games together with the same group of girls has made the team like one big family.
“We’re literally sisters,” Moe said. “I have my fake sisters here because we all kind of look alike — the Spessards (Sydney and Skylar). I’m like the third Spessard. And the Bjellands (Jena and Makayla) are related. A lot of our players are actually related. But in a sense, we’re all sisters.”
That familiarity helped the Rebels get off to a fast start in their early preseason practices. Normally softball practices start slow with some fundamental work inside while it’s still too cold to get outside onto the field. This year, however, assistant coach Tyler Drechsel said they were able to jump right into more advanced work right away thanks to his team’s experience level and favorable weather early on. That helped them in a big way with a shortened preseason that gave them less than two weeks between their first practice and their first game.
“We’re banking on that experience throughout the year, especially with such a weird season,” Drechsel said. “It’s all been a little bit backwards.”
Moe has been on fire at the plate to start the season. She boasts a .457 batting average with a .525 on-base percentage. She has 16 hits and five walks in 40 plate appearances and has scored 18 runs with 14 RBIs.
“Evelyn sets an example for the rest of our hitters,” Leitner said. “For her to be on base most of the time, that levels up everybody’s confidence, like okay we can get on base next time. She’s done really well playing her position and fielding the balls well.”
Moe, a junior, has been leading off for the Rebels since she was an eighth grader. She is patient at the plate and willing to take pitches to find the right one. And she said the main reason she’s so determined to get on base is so that she can run the bases.
“I just like baserunning,” Moe said. “When I get on base that means I get to run around, which is fun. That’s the most fun part of the game to me. I like getting hits, too, I guess. That’s also fun.”
“She takes that role as a leadoff kid. She sees a lot of pitches, she has one strikeout on the year — and that was a tough call that could have gone either way,” Drechsel said. “She’s a tough kid. You know what you’re going to get out of her every game.”
The Rebels have two solid arms to rely on in the pitcher’s circle in Leitner and senior Jena Bjelland.
The 6-foot Leitner has an ERA of 0.800 with a 5-0 record. She has 38 strikeouts and 12 walks and has allowed only four earned runs in 35 innings. Jena Bjelland has an ERA of 2.100 with 15 strikeouts and one walk in 13 innings pitched.
The pitching tandem has been working together to strike down the Rebels’ opponents for years. Bjelland was a starter for D-G-F going back to middle school and was the team’s main starter through her freshman year until Leitner caught on a year behind her. Now they anchor the pitching staff together.
“We always try to get two or three pitchers involved in a game,” Drechsel said. “We rotate them in and out during games. We can count on either of them at any time to just throw strikes. There’s no surprises there.”
As good as the pitchers are, Moe said it can sometimes get boring for her and her teammates in the field when they’re feeling unhittable. Even when they give up hits, she says, for the most part they tend not to be too threatening.
“Sometimes they’ll hit three or four to the left side and I’m telling them to slow down, I don’t want that many over here,” Moe said. “And then there’s other days where I have to tell them to get at least one. They usually have a pretty good laugh about that.”