Cardinals soaring into postseason

Three of the top Lewiston-Altura softball players, from left, Miranda Weilandt, Danielle Harstad and Natalie Kalmes are pictured Tuesday, May 22, 2012 before practice at Lewiston-Altura High School.

These are the numbers of one of the top hitters in southeastern Minnesota softball: a gaudy .700 batting average, 49 hits (more than half of which have gone for extra bases), 10 home runs and 35 RBIs in 20 games.

On most teams in Minnesota, those statistics would belong to the cleanup hitter.

At Lewiston-Altura, they belong to the leadoff hitter, senior shortstop Natalie Kalmes.

"We view our team as a keg of dynamite," L-A coach Mike Buringa said, "and she's the fuse."

Batting Kalmes at the top of the order is a luxury that Buringa can afford, considering all nine players in the team's lineup are hitting better than .300.


"Every school goes through cycles (of success)," Buringa said. "Most of the time, your outstanding group is five or six really good players. Our outstanding group is a little bigger than most."

That group put together an outstanding season. The Cardinals take an 18-2 record into the Section One, Class A playoffs this week after a regular season in which they averaged 11.7 runs per game, compiled a team batting average of .422 and belted 32 home runs.

The Cardinals haven't been cheated on many of those home runs, either. Buringa said a number of Kalmes' homers have cleared the fence by approximately 30 feet. Six Cardinals have hit two or more home runs, including Danielle Harstad (nine) and sophomore center fielder Taylor Daley (four).

"As (former Baltimore Orioles manager) Earl Weaver used to say, the best play is a three-run home run," Buringa said. "We've been fortunate enough to trot around the bases 32 times this year."

In addition to Kalmes, two other L-A players enter the playoffs with batting averages that are better than .500 — Miranda Weilandt (.525) and Harstad (.515).

"She's our unsung hero," Buringa said of Weilandt. "She's been one of our most consistent hitters and without a doubt our most improved player."

The Cardinals' potent lineup means they never feel like they're out of a game. Their two losses have been in high-scoring games, and both came by one run. They lost to Rushford-Peterson, 10-9, on April 17 and to Zumbrota-Mazeppa, 11-10, on April 21.

Since the loss to Z-M — the No. 4-ranked team in the state in Class AA — Lewiston-Altura has won 11 consecutive games. The Cardinals have averaged 12.5 runs in that span while giving up just 2.4 per game.


"We have really improved our fielding," Buringa said. "We do most of our work in practice on defense and baserunning. We do some batting practice, but our offense, we work on and develop that in the offseason."

L-A will play host to Mabel-Canton in an East Subsection 1A quarterfinal game at 5 p.m. Thursday. If the Cardinals win that game, they'll play host to the subsection semifinals and final on Saturday. The semifinal round has not been kind to L-A in recent years, as its season has ended in that round three consecutive seasons.

But, this team has nine seniors who are focused on going deep into the section playoffs, and challenging for a section title.

"The girls have matured to the point where they realize we control our own fate," Buringa said. "We just have to be ready to play as well as we can. Our maturity will carry us through that roadblock."

That maturity has also helped the Cardinals develop a new sense of confidence.

"They definitely have a little swagger," Buringa said. "This is the year they believed they can be a team to be reckoned with.

"It's a special group of kids."

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