Agate softball team overcomes adversityLike other teams in this year’s Section 7AA high school softball playoffs, Two Harbors has had to deal with the sport’s fundamentals such as hitting, pitching and fielding. But unlike rival opponents, the Agates have had to deal with the loss of a teammate.
By: Rick Weegman, Duluth News Tribune
Like other teams in this year’s Section 7AA high school softball playoffs, Two Harbors has had to deal with the sport’s fundamentals such as hitting, pitching and fielding.
But unlike rival opponents, the Agates have had to deal with the loss of a teammate.
Sophomore Katelyn Roiland’s death earlier this month came as a shock to the team, but players have bonded together to keep her memory alive and make an unprecedented run in the section playoffs.
Senior catcher Sasha Fjeran may have worked more closely than any other player with Roiland, who was learning to catch in her first year on the junior varsity.
“I worked with her on catching a lot during practice and gave her tips,” Fjeran said. “She was always a hard worker and willing to do anything I told her.
“One time I told her, ‘Your stance is looking really good Katie,’ and she said, ‘Thanks, I’ve been watching you.’ ”
Second-seeded Two Harbors (16-4), which opens today’s playoffs at home against Crosby-Ironton, postponed its first game following Roiland’s death May 4 and used the time for a night of bonding. The next day, everyone wore pink at school in honor of her favorite color.
“It was therapy to wear the pink; I think it was good for everyone,” Fjeran said. “We bonded from it and the whole softball team is closer now.”
Agates coach Julie Benson said therapists were made available at the school so students could have someone to talk to, if necessary.
“Our administration made the right choice by contacting the experts like the school psychologist and counselors and human development services through the county,” she said. “We relied on grief counselors to help us through.”
Benson only knew the first-year player for a short time, but gave her a varsity number in April in case she got the call up.
“She was definitely a likeable kid and coachable and very willing to learn,” Benson said. “She tried the catcher position — one of the harder positions on the team — but wanted to learn.
“To use a term that came from her (funeral) service, she definitely left her footprint on the team and will always be remembered.”
Teammates are wearing stickers on the backs of their helmets that say “In memory of 5” and pink ribbons in their hair. Often times, the Agates break a pregame huddle by shouting “Forever pink!”
Though they postponed the one game, the Agates played four games the week of Roiland’s funeral.
“We were emotionally and physically exhausted,” Benson said.
Still, Two Harbors finished the regular season with the school’s best record and hopes to qualify for the double-elimination final four for the first time in the program’s nine years.
“Our goal is to get into the third round and see what happens,” Benson said.
Several teams stand in the way, most notably Hermantown. The four-time defending champion Hawks (17-3) have played in the past three Class AA championship games and again are a No. 1 seed in their subsection.
Besides Two Harbors, one of the teams that could make a run is Esko (12-8). The Eskomos closed the regular season by winning their last four games and capturing the Polar League title over Two Harbors. That allowed the Eskomos to move up to No. 3 in the Quality Ratings Formula subsection rankings and avoid a possible quarterfinal meeting against Hermantown.
“We told our kids, ‘It’s either go on a run and see if we move up or make it a quick exit,’ ” Esko coach Brad Emanuel said. “It’s no secret; somebody’s got to beat Hermantown. The later you get to play Hermantown, the deeper you are going to go into the tournament.”
Esko’s been hitting the ball well all season, but the development of sophomore pitcher Abbey Saralampi is key to competing against other mid-level section teams such as Virginia, Greenway and Cloquet.
“Abbey has a very good command of her location and, along with her command, she’s able to throw in a curveball and a change-up,” Emanuel said. “Anytime you can throw something not going straight in or dropping, it’s an adjustment to hitters.”