Aussie Peppers preparing for local debut

Aussie Peppers preparing for local debut

General manager Mark Mangulis of the new Aussie Peppers women’s pro fastpitch team hasn’t had much downtime lately.

Since announcing the National Pro Fastpitch team will relocate to North Mankato’s Caswell Park as part of the Mankato Peppers program, Mangulis has been on the go.

“Life is good and busy,” he said last week. “Our season begins in early June, and there are always details that need taking care of.”

Among the things Mangulis has been involved with are trading for homegrown standout Coley Ries from the Chicago Bandits, taking part in the National Pro Fastpitch draft, arranging for player housing at Bethany Lutheran College and finalizing the 2019 schedule.

“We’re really excited about our draft,” Mangulis said. “We identified our team needs and believe we came out of it with four quality players.”

The Aussie Peppers went into the six-team league draft with picks 8, 13, 18 and 23.

With their first pick they chose University of Washington pitcher Taran Alvelo (24-4, 174 1/3 innings, 257 strikeouts, 40 walks, 1.61 ERA, 100 career wins). Next, they chose pitcher Nicole Newman from Drake (28-6, 206 innings, 393 strikeouts, 43 walks, 0.66 ERA).

The Peppers followed that up by selecting Texas A&M third baseman/shortstop Riley Sartain (.260, 28 runs, 25 RBIs, 7 doubles, 7 home runs). Their final pick was Indiana pitcher Tara Trainer (26-11, 215 2/3 innings, 231 strikeouts, 108 walks, 1.82 ERA).

Mangulis said the team wasn’t just looking for talent, it also wanted to find athletes who would be comfortable playing in the Midwest. “We did our research, we think we came out fine,” he said.

Although the three drafted pitchers means Ries will be challenged for playing time on the mound, the Eagle Lake native welcomes their addition. The standout at Mankato East, who led Minnesota State to an NCAA Division II national title, hardly expected to be the top dog in training camp.

“This pro fastpitch league is not like college ball when you can ride the arm of one or maybe two pitchers to a championship,” Ries said. “The hitters in this league are too good.

“We had eight pitchers on staff when I was with Chicago last year and almost nobody threw a complete game. A couple of times through the order, and they bring in a reliever.”

Ries said it’s not unusual for a team to use five different starters in a five-game series.

“Your pitching staff has be talented, and it has to be deep. All the teams are using a committee approach.”

Ries, who served as a grad assistant for the MSU softball team this spring, plans to fly to Brisbane, Australia, on Monday to start working out with the Aussie Peppers. She remembers how helpful it was to practice with the Chicago Bandits in the preseason last year and wants to be in peak condition for the season-opener in June.

“I’m excited and a little nervous traveling all the way over there by myself,” she said. “But this will give me a chance to get to know the catchers, get feedback from the coaches. I’ll get to go against live hitting and see what’s working and what isn’t.”

Ries said she’s prepared to be teased because of her accent. “Heck, when I was in Chicago last year they made fun of my Minnesota accent so I’ll get plenty of that in Australia,” she said.

The Aussie Peppers open the season at Caswell Park on June 9 against the Beijing Eagles. Both teams are trying to prepare their national squads for qualification to the 2020 Olympics.

“There’s a lot on the line for those teams because only one of them can qualify out of the Asia-Pacific region,” Mangulis said. “That’s why they’re in this league, to play the best competition possible.”

This article appeared originally in South Central Minnesota publication The Free Press by Sports Editor Jim Rueda.