Manske will control the mound for BP

Blooming Prairie senior pitcher Erica Manske is focused on getting the Awesome Blossoms back to state this year. -- Rocky Hulne/

BLOOMING PRAIRIE — Erica Manske can still remember it well.

The Awesome Blossoms are playing in the Class ‘A’ state softball consolation round and she comes up with two near clutch hits in a row. However, one is called foul and she is called out on the second one – despite appearing to beat the throw with a late slide.

“That was a hard way to end a good year. Me and my dad got back and listened to the tape of the game a couple of times and they were like ‘BP wins, wait I guess not,’” Manske said. “It makes you want to work hard so we can do better this year.”

Although it will be hard for Manske, who struck out more hitters (201) than she allowed on base (137) last season, and the Awesome Blossoms to top making it state for the first time in school history – that’s their goal.

With Manske, who finished with an ERA 1.16 last season, on the mound, BP has a solid chance at accomplishing it.

“Erica has improved every year she’s been here. She’s probably one of the best or the best pitcher we’ve had here,” BP head coach Ali Mach said. “I expect her to have another phenomenal season because she puts in a lot of time in the offseason and on the weekends.”

Manske entered the starting lineup as a freshman right after her older sister, Amy, graduated. Amy was a quality pitcher in her own right, but Erica has never felt the need to compare herself with her older sibling.

“It was fun to watch her,” Manske said. “I don’t really compare myself to her because we’re different pitchers and I’m not trying to be better than her.”

While some elite pitchers excel on fastballs and overpowering hitters, that’s never been Manske’s strength. While she has plenty of speed, she’d just as soon force a ground ball and trust her defense to make a solid play.

“She’s got a lot of speed, but she’s not a strikeout pitcher,” Mach said. “She places the ball very well, she knows her batters, she pays attention to her counts and she trusts her defense. She can move the ball more than other pitchers and not have to overpower.”

While the senior hurler still gets nervous before every game, Manske excels when the pressure is on the line as she has created quite a knack for getting out of jams at the toughest times.

“I pitch better when there’s pressure. That’s when I set my foot down,” she said. “When you get a runner on third, it’s that much better to get a strikeout or a groundout.”

BP went 23-4 overall last season and will likely be targeted by a lot of teams they face this spring. Manske embraces the pressure and doesn’t mind when hitters focus on getting to her.

“(The fact that teams are focusing on me) may be a motivator for me and if that’s how they feel, I would say it’s a compliment,” she said. “I need to play my best every night.”

Since last season finished, Manske has played over the summer, in the fall and after a short break, she played in the winter as well.

“I just want to keep getting better,” she said. “It’s a lot of time, but that’s what it takes.”

That hard work will probably leave Manske, who is leaning towards playing softball at Luther College next season, at No. 1 in the wins and strikeouts list at BP and she already has the record for wins in a season.

But the success is not getting to Manske’s head as she has still put in some work to help out sophomore pitcher Shelbi Swenson.

“Shelbi’s a heck of a pitcher and she’ll throw up some great numbers too,” Mach said. “We’re a small program and it’s important that no matter what, these older girls are leading the younger girls. They’re kind of setting a tradition and their leadership and how they carry themselves now will have an impact on our future.”

BP is scheduled to open its season at home April 7 against Faribault Bethlehem Academy.

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