Osakis’ firepower too much for Minnewaska as veterans lead the way, Lakers’ new coach learning the ropes

Osakis was too much for Minnewaska and new head coach Jason Weber. The Lakers are navigating the challenges of a long layoff with new faces as they try to shake off a slow start to their 2021 campaign.

Grace Oeltjen lays down a bunt for a single in the first inning of Osakis' 20-1 win over Minnewaska in three innings on Apr. 16, 2021. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)

Minnewaska junior Olivia Richards scored on a wild pitch in the top of the first inning. But 20 unanswered runs from an experienced Osakis team ended the game in three innings.

The Silverstreaks only batted in two innings, but they got their fair share of cuts in a 20-1 win. It all started with a leadoff bunt single by senior Grace Oeltjen. She would tie the game on a wild pitch before freshman Maggie Dirkes drove in a pair of runs with an RBI single. From there, Osakis never trailed.

"We wanted to make sure we stayed aggressive," Oeltjen said. "We had a little bit of a tight strike zone, so if something was there, we made sure to get a bat on it and let the balls fly."

Eighth-grader Josee Hartshorn added an RBI single before sophomore Ellie George and Oeltjen walked in runs with the bases loaded. The big inning was highlighted with a two-RBI double from junior Kennedy George.


Tia Dykema tracks and infield pop-up in the first inning of Osakis' 20-1 win over Minnewaska in three innings on Apr. 16, 2021. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)

Osakis showed its versatility at the plate by scoring runs on extra-base hits and using the small-ball approach.

"It's going to be really fun for us this year," Oeltjen said. "We are excited to show what we can do."

The bottom of the second inning was more of the same. The Silverstreaks hit four run-scoring doubles from Oeltjen, Kennedy George, senior Tia Dykema and Dirkes. John Stigman, the Osakis head coach, is thrilled to see the production from his upperclassmen trickle down to the newcomers.

"We're lucky we have some veterans," Stigman said. "Tia, who's our shortstop, has been playing since seventh grade and Grace has played for us since ninth grade. Shelbe (Schmidt) has been with us since she was in eighth grade. It probably makes a difference when you have those girls with three or four years under their belts. We have a couple of very young players that the older girls have really taken under their wing."

Maggie Dirkes belts a double to the centerfield wall in the second inning of Osakis' 20-1 win over Minnewaska on Apr. 16, 2021. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)

Osakis junior Hayleigh Neihoff gave up one unearned run on the rubber in her three innings of pitching. She stranded four runners on base to earn the win.


Minnewaska struggled to rebound from a snowballing first inning. Head coach Jason Weber emphasized Friday night was a learning experience for his young squad.

"We need to get better every day," Weber said. "When the little things compound like they did today, we need to be able to learn from that. Osakis is a team that can hit, run and do a lot of different things. They took it to us. It's about getting back to the fundamentals and taking it one pitch at a time."

First time for everything

Jason Weber leads a mound meeting in the first inning Minnewaska's 20-1 loss to Osakis in three innings on Apr. 16, 2021. Webber took the Lakers' head coaching job on Mar. 7, and is coaching softball for the first time ever. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)

Weber has spent a considerable amount of time on the diamond, just not the softball diamond. The former junior varsity baseball coach took the Minnewaska fastpitch head coaching gig on Mar. 7, which is the first time he's ever coached softball.

"I had about three weeks to prepare for this," Weber said. "I have two great assistants in Christine Meulebroeck and Jackie Skoglund. I've coached JV and ninth-grade baseball down in Marshall and some junior high stuff in Minnewaska, but never softball."

Former head coach, Tabitha Swenson, stepped down after the 2019 season, leaving the coaching vacancy open for over a year.

Weber is committed to learning as he goes. The speed of the game has been the biggest adjustment for him so far.


Makenna Panitzke throws the ball to first base in Minnewaska's 20-1 loss to Osakis in three innings on Apr. 16, 2021. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)

"For me, I was taken back by how quick the game goes and the difference between baseball and softball pitching is," Weber said. "In the field, there are some subtle differences. The hitting mechanics are roughly the same. But you have less time in softball. The difference in 90 and 60 feet on the bases is a challenge. You have to go quick, so we've tried to speed up our practices."

Stigman came from a baseball background 25 years ago to start the Osakis softball program. After the game, he and Weber shared experiences of being in the same shoes.

"I feel for him," Stigman said. "When I started this program we didn't have softball. At least they have a program, so he just has to learn how to pick up the pieces. The semantics of the moves, the throwing and a lot of the stuff are very similar. I think it's more about you in your head learning the strategy of the game and conveying that to girls rather than boys."

When Stigman looks back to when he started coaching softball, he remembers learning what it takes to be a head coach.

"It took us until about year six to feel like we were here to stay," Stigman said. "Our first conference title was in year six. It takes a ton of patience because you're learning along with them. You don't fully understand what you're preaching at the same time early on."


Mikayla Martin throws the ball to first base during the first inning of Minnewaska's 20-1 loss to Osakis on Apr. 16, 2021. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)

Stigman joked about his early days of coaching.

"Having done this for so long, I'll run into former players, and we'll talk about the teams they played on," Stigman said. "They might have thought I was an OK coach, but I didn't know anything. I know a little bit more now, and I would love to coach them again, but they're 30-years-old."

Weber has one goal for this season: to get his group playing its best game at the end of the season.

"Most coaches will say they don't want their best game to come in the middle of April," Weber said. "They'd rather be playing well in the middle of May in the playoffs."

Stigman believes the essence of coaching is learning no matter how long a figure has been around the game.

"I remember being a younger coach," Stigman said. "I heard a thing here the other day that said the first 10 years of coaching is about trying to prove yourself. Then, you finally get over yourself and figure out how to teach the kids. I can think back to my first 10 years when I was trying to prove myself when I should've been teaching my kids how to play. Your focus gets better the longer you do this."


John Stigman (left) gives a fist bump to Kennedy George after the top of the third inning. Osakis beat Minnewaska 20-1 in three innings on Apr. 16, 2021. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)

Jared Rubado is the sports editor for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Perham Focus. He moved to the area in September of 2021 after covering sports for the Alexandria Echo Press for nearly three years. Jared graduated from the University of Augustana in 2018 with degrees in journalism and sports managment.
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