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Mitchell fastpitch softball team moving up to Class AA after winning 'A' title last year

After winning the Class A state fastpitch title last year, the Mitchell Kernels are moving to Class AA.

A move in classes does not change coach Jim Misiaszek's goal for the season, though. He wants the team to be hoisting the state trophy at the end of the year again.

"We aren't going to be shy about it; everyone's goal going into the season is to win a state championship and we are no different," he said. "I don't know if that's bold or brash, but the kids feel they can do it."

Mitchell's season begins at 7 p.m. today in Rapid City with a doubleheader against Rapid City Stevens and Rapid City Central. Mitchell plays one school in the first game and the second game against the other. On Saturday, the Kernels play another doubleheader against both teams starting at 10 a.m. in Rapid City.

This is the fifth year Mitchell has competed in the fastpitch club softball season and the fourth year it has had a varsity team.

Last year, Mitchell put together a 19-9 record and beat Vermillion 9-5 to win the state championship. The Kernels lost seven seniors.

Of the team's seven players that graduated last year, two of them were pitchers. Kelli Schlimgen went 8-7 last year and plays for Briar Cliff College, a Great Plains Athletic School in Sioux City, Iowa. Schlimgen also batted .450 and drove in 35 RBIs and was a first baseman.

The team also lost pitcher Sam Kayser. Three other starting seniors last year were Chelsea Berg, Ellen Bucher and Natasha Stern.

The team returns eight seniors and five letterwinners -- three seniors and two juniors.

Winning the Class A title did not force Mitchell to move to Class AA. Misiazsek actually volunteered the team to jump classes.

"We belong there. We are a double-A school," he said. "The main reason why we decided to go to the Class AA classification is because the girls that we have during our summer season have been playing that level of competition.

"It's taken us five years to get to the point where I feel comfortable competition against those teams. Actually, some say that's pretty quick from starting from nothing."

Mitchell's first four games of the year will be against the Rapid City squads that played for the Class AA state championship last year.

There is not a lot of pressure on these first four games of the season, though, Misiaszek said.

"The girls want to win every game," he said. "Going out there, they are not the most important games of the season but they will set the tone."

Mitchell's offense is one of the team's main strengths this season. Last year, the Kernels averaged about eight runs a game.

"It's what we were known for last year and it's what we will be known for this year," Misiaszek said. "We will fill in the seniors in the key positions like leadoff and middle of the orders, and we have a lot of hitters that have similar strengths.

"We can hit for power, put it in play and make the defense make a play and we can play small ball."

Senior Kaleigh Rolle returns after batting .320 and driving in 31 RBIs. Senior Andrea Sheppard-Kauwalu batted .330 and drove in 19 runs. Junior Courtney Moore drove in 20 runs and junior Emily Sudbeck had 17 RBIs. In nine games, senior Katy Lazenby batted .400.

Sheppard-Kauwalu was the team's third pitcher and will anchor Mitchell's rotation this year. She was 4-3 last year and she was the winning pitcher in Mitchell's state championship game.

Junior Krista Huber and freshman Hallie Misiaszek are the other two pitchers this year.

Jim Misiaszek said pitching is a little bit of a concern this year because of inexperience.

"There's always going to be a concern and this sport is pitching dominated," he said. "We will run a three-person pitching rotation until it works itself out and we find the top two pitchers.

"We have three very good pitchers and by far our best pitching staff that we have ever had, we just have a little inexperience at the high school level."

Huber and Hallie Misiaszek just finished the summer season playing for Mitchell's U-16 team, which Jim Misiaszek said the two will see a lot of the same players in the club season.

The team's infield defense concerns Jim Misiaszek more than the team's pitching, though.

"Our first concern is taking care of the ball defensively," he said. "We lost our entire infield for the most part. We have a lot of versatility and the players play their positions well.

"But it's chemistry. It's going to take a while for the chemistry to come together."

Sheppard-Kauwalu plays shortstop and will be used in left field. Rolle is the catcher with freshman Abby Sudbeck backing her up. Harris will be in center field with senior Lazenby at third base. Moore will start at first base with senior Carlie McEntee seeing some time at first and junior Krista Huber and Hallie Misiaszek will platoon at second base. Sudbeck will also see time at shortstop and left field. Seniors Ashley Green and Jean VanDriel will see some time in the outfield.