Blossoms keep blooming with a Manske in the middle

Blossoms keep blooming with a Manske in the middle
Erica Manske pitcher for the Blooming Prairie Blossoms was a Second Team All-State player last season as a junior and led her team to its first state tournament appearance.

BLOOMING PRAIRIE — Shrewd softball coaches fill out their lineup cards in pencil, especially early in the season, so it’s easier to make changes right up until game time.

But Ali Mach has been able to ‘ink’ in the same last name in the ‘1’ position for as long as she has been coaching at Blooming Prairie.

For the eighth straight season there is a Manske pitching for Blooming Prairie, and the upshot is that the Awesome Blossoms again are a force to be reckoned with in the Gopher Conference and in Section 1A.

Erica Manske is in her fifth season pitching for the Blossoms, and after leading the team to new heights last year, now she is busy knocking down what remain of her older sister Amy’s program pitching records. Amy was Blooming Prairie’s ace for three seasons, from 2004-06.

"I’ve been pretty fortunate to have these two sisters, that’s for sure," said Mach, who arrived in Blooming Prairie and took over the softball program in 2004, the same year that the Manske family moved in from Wisconsin.


Mach already has 120 career wins, and the Manske sisters have combined for 86 of them.

"I was in fifth grade when we moved here, and I wasn’t very happy about it at the time," Erica recalled. "But it worked out well in the end.. I really like it here now."

Amy Manske won 29 games and had about 500 career strikeouts, with a single-season school record 217 K’s in her junior season. She was sidelined by a knee injury as a senior.

Erica stepped in where Amy left off, getting her first varsity pitching win as an eighth-grader and taking on the No. 1 pitcher role as a freshman. Now she’s on pace for 70 career wins and 800 strikeouts.

"Amy was more of a strikeout pitcher; she overpowered batters with her fast ball," Mach explained. "Erica will mix in more pitches and move the ball around more. She definitely likes to challenge batters and tries to fool them."

New heights revisited? 

Erica notched a program record 20 wins last season, and more notably she rose to the occasion in getting Blooming Prairie to the state tournament for the first time.

Manske was on the mound for a pair of close wins in the Section 1A final four over Hope Lutheran and its star pitcher, Felicia Meyer, who is now at Winona State. Manske pitched a shutout in the final, a 4-0 Blossoms win.


Meyer and Hope Lutheran had ended Blooming Prairie’s season several times in previous seasons, including a pair of 2-0 decisions in the 2009 section final. 

"We really weren’t thinking about state last year, so much as we were focused on beating Hope," Manske said. "We had gotten so close (to state) before, and they kept stopping us; it was fun to finally do it."

Blooming Prairie dropped a pair of 1-run games at the state tournament in North Mankato, and heavy rain and poor field conditions took some of the fun out of both games.

"It was great to get there, but disappointing at the same time," Manske said. "The weather wasn’t exactly ideal, and both of those games we could have won, if we had played better."

Manske and a veteran Blooming Prairie team may get the chance to make amends, although Mach doesn’t like to look too far ahead or voice specific team goals, such as a return to state.

Mach has most of her starters back from a Blossoms team that averaged 7.3 runs and allowed only 1.8 per game. That includes senior shortstop Tayla Jones, who was all-conference and all-section last season, and junior outfielder Tricia DeBoer, a fourth-year starter.

Blooming Prairie is off to a 5-0 start and ranked No. 4 in Class A, and Manske has been dominant so far, with all five wins, a 0.93 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 30 innings. She’s also batting .500 in the No. 2 spot in the order.

Manske plans to keep pitching — and hitting — at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. But for now she is savoring the familiar view from the pitching rubber in Blooming Prairie.


"Obviously getting back to state would be awesome, but we’re not talking about that," she said. "We just want to have a successful season and keep improving, game to game."


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