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Senior battery leading the way for Beacons fastpitch
After making a nice run in the section playoffs last year, the Concordia Academy fastpitch softball team faced a number of questions as this season approached. The Beacons graduated a bunch of seniors off last year’s squad so there were some holes.
As head coach, Gina Tupper began to assemble a roster, two positions seemed pretty well locked up and they are two of the more important spots on the field--pitcher and catcher. Seniors Courtney Larsen and Claire Heilman wasted little time showing the new players the way.
“Those two in key positions makes a very big difference,” Tupper said. “They’ve really set the tone for the girls, especially with so many younger girls coming up.”
Concordia Academy opened the season April 9 at Brooklyn Center and Heilman had a huge day the plate. She went 4-for-5 with a double, two home runs and seven runs batted in as the Beacons won 18-3 in five innings.
“It felt nice,” Heilman said. “All this training came together right off the bat. Literally, right off the bat.”
Game two was April 14th at Blake/Breck and Larsen was dominant. She threw a five-inning complete game with six strikeouts and no walks as Concordia won 12-0. She faced 16 batters and threw first-pitch strikes to 15 of them. She needed only 57 pitches, 47 of which were strikes, to close out the game and she did all of that without a decent warm-up. She loosened up some in the gym at Concordia before boarding the bus for Blake and threw a few more pitches at the field.
“I think overall it kind of boosts our confidence,” Larsen said. “I know having a younger team with a lot of newer faces to the game, it kind of boosts their confidence and now they know going into the game we can perform above and beyond our expectations.
“They’re just such consistent players for us,” Tupper said. “It’s just an encouraging start to the year because we’ve got so many new players.”
Heilman, who lives in Coon Rapids, and Larsen, who lives in Roseville, are two of only four returning players from last year so they are looked to for leadership this spring. That might sound like a lot of pressure but Heilman doesn’t see it that way.
“I don’t feel pressured at all,” Heilman said. “I really like this group of girls and I think they’re really awesome. We get along with them really well.”
In addition to being battery-mates, Larsen and Heilman are also close friends. They met during their freshman year at Concordia and became good friends during their sophomore softball season and while playing on the same summer team that year.
Tupper appreciates their softball talents and is also impressed with the way they treat their teammates, some of who are new to varsity-level softball and might be prone to inexperience errors.
“They’re unique in that they’re so talented yet they don’t get angry at players who are newer or not as experienced,” Tupper said. “They’re just so patient so the players are really comfortable making mistakes and learning. So we’re really seeing some good growth just based on the kind of leaders they are.”
Away from the diamond, Larsen and Heilman share similar musical interests, as evidenced by the Avenged Sevenfold concert they attended together last week.
“We like our rock,” Larsen said.
“(Coach) always gives us a hard time about that,” Heilman joked.
This will likely be the last time Larsen and Heilman are softball teammates. They are planning on being on different teams this summer and might actually play against each other. With that in mind, they’d like to make this season one to remember and extend it as long as possible.
“I’m just trying to make it memorable, make sure everything is fun and energetic,” said Larsen. “Wins are important but I’d like to keep us a family so when I come back I can say these are my friends.”
“One of our goals for the season is to make the final four again,” Heilman said. “We hope to do that again and maybe even more.”
Next fall, Larsen will attend Augsburg College in Minneapolis and hopes to be on the softball team. Heilman is headed to the University of South Dakota but is up in the air about her softball future there.
Concordia had all of its games last week rained out and is hoping for better weather luck this week. On the schedule are four conference games and a weekend tournament. Among the conference games are home contests against Visitation on Tuesday, St. Agnes on Wednesday and St. Anthony Village on Friday. On Saturday, the Beacons travel to Zimmerman for a tournament.
Brian Meyers can be reached at email@example.com.