Intriguing is how Frank Roth describes his St. Croix Prep Academy softball team.
“They don’t all eat, sleep and breathe softball,” Roth said.
Yet the Lions won the Minnesota Christian Athletic Association title outright, losing just one conference game this spring.
As softball playoffs begin in earnest this week, the Lions are contenders in Class 2A, Section 4. They earned the No. 4 seed and host No. 13 seed St. Paul Academy at 4:30 p.m. Monday.
Roth, who arrived in 2017, counted 17 players who have made the three-season climb from being a sub-.500 team. Back in December, Roth asked his players to list their season goals. The wants included having fun, learning, winning the conference and reaching the state tournament.
Roth said he and assistant coach Mike Koch arrived at the Stillwater-based college preparatory school to find “softball had been more a rec program. School administration wanted to make athletics as competitive as the academics. It’s one thing for the administration to say it but it’s another thing if the kids want it. They chose to learn how to play and how to become a competitive team.”
Roth lauded his team’s depth and interchangeable difference makers.
Senior Bailey Erlandson plays shortstop and center field, switched from a right-handed hitter to a left-handed bunter, and bats about .600 from the leadoff spot. She will play softball at Coe College in Iowa.
Batting second is senior Elise Amerongen, a transfer from Hill-Murray and one of the Lions’ three captains.
Madyson Marx, who hits in the No. 3 spot, used her bowling experience to develop into a solid pitcher. The junior is also a captain.
Sophomore Sydney Erlandson has belted five home runs and leads the team in RBI.
Eighth-grader Annika Burquest is the other starting pitcher. She and Marx have split the team’s 14 victories.
Roth, who arrived at St. Croix Prep after 14 seasons and 198 victories at Mounds View, is most impressed by his players’ character.
“After every practice they come up to Mike and I and say, ‘Thank you for coaching us today,’ ” Roth said. “They are not an entitled group. They work for what they get and appreciate the effort that goes into it.”
Two of the Lions’ biggest victories in May were testaments to their work ethic. Down 5-4 at Lester Prairie, a place the Lions had never won, they rallied to win 6-5 in the seventh inning. Trailing 4-1 at Maranatha Christian Academy, the second-best team in the conference, St. Croix Prep exploded for five runs in the fifth inning and 10 runs in the seventh inning to win 16-4.
After a regular season-ending victory at Spectrum High School in Elk River, Roth congratulated his players on accomplishing their goal of winning the conference.
“Then I reminded them their next goal was to get to state,” he said. “That’s how they want to be remembered.”