NORTH MANKATO – Imagine you are a softball pitcher. You stand 43 feet from home plate and you must be able to read the catcher’s signs, know the strike zone and fire the ball to exactly the right spot.
Now imagine doing that with one working eye.
That’s what Julia Stenberg does every day. The senior from Badger/Greenbush-Middle River finished the season with a 15-2 record on Friday when the Gators were defeated by Edgerton/Southwest Minnesota Christian 12-0 in the Class 1A state championship game at Caswell Park.
Julia lost the sight in her right eye as the result of a sledding accident when she was in first grade. The injuries resulted in a detached retina and the gradual loss of vision.
“I don’t even remember when I lost sight totally, but my whole softball career has been with one eye so I really haven’t had to adapt to anything. I’ve practiced pitching pretty much from when I was this big,” she said, holding one hand about belt high.
She has been pitching since ninth grade for the Gators, who are nearly regulars at the state tournament. Their 2016 appearance is their seventh since 2000 and they were the 1A state runnersup last season.
Julia's fastball is not dominating and her changeup is not thrown often, but she relies on the ability to hit spots. She came into the state tournament with an earned-run average of only 1.46, striking out 55 and walking just 12 in 86 1/3 innings.
“I rely on my accuracy, and once in a while I’ll get a changeup in but I’m not really consistent with that,” said Julia, who also was a member of Greenbush-Middle River’s state championship robotics team this spring.
Fielding can be a challenge, as well as hitting. Julia said depth perception is an issue in those instances.
“Anywhere else in the field I’m slow to my right side,” she said. “In the outfield, I have zero depth perception so it’s like, uh …” And then she laughed.
Fun is part of the game plan for the Gators. And Julia’s vision is something everyone who knows her is used to.
“I think they know but everyone kind of forgets,” she said. “My teammates will just joke around; I’ll miss something and somebody will say, ‘Julia, geez. What are you, blind?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ And they’ll go, ‘Oh, I forgot! I’m sorry!’ ”
--Friday’s softball state championship games were delayed by storms. The fields were cleared at 3:11 p.m. – all games were underway -- when lightning flashed, followed by heavy rain, high winds and hail. The North Mankato Police Department was well-prepared and fans took shelter in nearby Dakota Meadows Middle School. Teams returned to their fields at 7 p.m. and play resumed soon after.
STATE SOFTBALL RESULTS
Class 1A/ Edgerton/SW MN Christian 12, Badger/Greenbush-Middle River 0
Class 2A/ Zumbrota-Mazeppa 7, Pequot Lakes 0
Class 3A/ Mankato West 4, Winona 3
Class 4A/ Chanhassen 5, Buffalo 3
Class 1A/ Mankato Loyola 6, Cherry 2
Class 2A/ Rockford 3, LeSueur-Henderson 0
Class 3A/ Hermantown 18, Benilde-St. Margaret’s 6
Class 4A/ Woodbury 12, Hopkins 0
Class 1A/ New York Mills 13, Pine River-Backus 1
Class 2A/ Pipestone 8, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 3
Class 3A/ Alexandria 5, Becker 1
Class 4A/ Park 8, Forest Lake 0
STATE TRACK: DAY ONE
The state track and field championships began Friday with mostly preliminaries and will conclude Saturday at Hamline University in St. Paul. Here are some of the highlights from Day One:
--East Ridge senior Karina Joiner set an all-time state record in the prelims of the girls Class 2A 100-meter hurdles. Her time of 13.94 seconds shattered the previous record of 14.13 set by Ann Harlos of Eden Prairie a year ago.
--Forest Lake senior Emma Benner won the girls 2A 3,200 meters, holding off Alexandria twins Megan and Bethany Hasz, who were second and third. Bethany won the race last year, and Bethany and Megan have finished first and second at the last three Class 2A state cross-country meets.
--The top three finishers in the Class 1A girls 3,200 meters were two seventh-graders and an eighth-grader. The winner was Winona Cotter seventh-grader Grace Ping, who also won the 1A cross-country title last fall. Second was seventh-grader Tierney Wolfgram of Math & Science Academy and third was Breck eighth-grader Morgan Richter.
--Weather also was an issue at Hamline. After the Class 2A portion of the meet concluded, the Class 1A events were delayed by storms.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 770
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 11,956