‘You can’t pitch to her’: Winona’s Grace Fricke is the 2022 Post Bulletin Softball Player of the Year – Post Bulletin

Mitch Grossell had grown accustomed to seeing Grace Fricke launch homers, even before she ever donned the orange and white of the Winona High School softball team as a freshman.

Yet, with a group of strong upperclassmen, Grossell decided to put Fricke at the top of the card lineup as the lead-off hitter to kick off her varsity career.

Nervous beyond belief to see her name right at the top, Fricke’s butterflies were calmed with a half-inning in the field before her first high school plate appearance. The hitting power she already had shown at sub-varsity levels came through for the first time in her varsity career as she laced a home run on the first pitch she saw.

“I remember hitting it and I don’t think I gave any emotion,” Fricke said. “But when I got home, my teammates were so supportive and were cracking jokes, like what I ate for breakfast.”

It was the start of something special.

Flash forward four years and the powerful right-hander grew into one of the most feared hitters across the state of Minnesota.

In fact, this past season, teams decided they would rather walk her than face her.

Ten of Fricke’s 20 walks were intentional, with nearly half of them coming in the postseason.

It was for good reason, though.

When teams pitched to her, it typically didn’t end well for them.

There are few who can impact the game as much with one swing like Fricke can. The third baseman’s numbers were video-game like: A .556 batting average, a .624 on-base percentage and an eye-popping 1,735 OPS. More than half of her 40 hits went for extra bases, as she finished the season with nine home runs and 13 doubles to go along with 39 RBIs in helping the Winhawks reach their second consecutive Class AAA state title game.

Those are some of the many reasons why Fricke is the 2022 Post Bulletin All-Area Softball Player of the Year. The dominance she showcased all season long propelled her past fellow finalists Abby Breuer, a pitcher from Cannon Falls, and Peyton Berg, the catcher for Class AA state champion Chatfield.

“Her stats — I mean jeepers,” Grossell said. “… They tried to pitch around her, but she still produced. I don’t have enough good things to say about the way she played for us.”

Becoming a complete hitter

Fricke burst onto the scene last season, hitting .523 with six home runs, 35 RBIs and a .762 slugging percentage.

Two of those homers came in the 2021 state tournament — one against St. Sartell-Stephen in the quarter finals, the other in the semifinals versus rival Mankato West — in games the No. 4-seeded Winhawks won by one run as part of a Cinderella ride that ended with a 4-0 loss to Becker in the state championship game.

Fricke was named to the All-State First Team as a junior in addition to All-Big Nine and All-Section 1AAA honors. Fricke headed into the offseason, though, knowing teams would be more careful with how they pitched to her in the 2022 season. Grossell made her well aware of the fact that teams would try to get her to expand the zone and pitch her more off the outside corner. It was a spot that had been her kryptonite.

“I really quarreled with that outside pitch,” Fricke said. “That’s the one thing I heard all year.”

So she went to work.

She spent more time in the batting cage, worked more on the tee along with of soft toss, all with the goal of letting the ball travel more so she would be better prepared to attack that outside pitch.

It made an incredible difference.

“She was really susceptible to the outside pitch,” Grossell said. “She was a dead pull hitter. This year, she hit the ball over the fence in right field for the first time. If you look at her hits, they’re all over the outfield. You can’t pitch to her.”

Fricke could cover every inch of the plate and off it, while still displaying the power that opponents dreaded so much.

“I definitely could tell that I was more controlled when it came to the outside pitches, because last year, all my home runs would have been to left field,” Fricke said. “I never hit a ball into right field before this year.”

As the season wore on, more and more teams were less willing to pitch to her, especially in the postseason. Byron walked her twice twice in the Section 1AAA semifinals, as did Mankato West in the Class AAA championship game. At times, it was understandably hard for Fricke. She wanted to hit, to drive in runs, to deliver for her team.

“It’s very frustrating,” Fricke said. “You get in positions where there’s runners on first and second and then you get walked and bases loaded and I obviously 100% trust my teammates behind me wherever they happen to line up, but I want to get that good hit, drive those runners print.
“It’s very frustrating from my point of view, but at the same time, I also do take it as a sign of respect. They think that I could do something to win the game for my team or something like that. And I hear it from my teammates, coaches, too, like it’s just respect but I feel overall, it’s a mix of 60/40 frustration and respect.”

But yet, when teams did pitch to her, it often made them immediately regret it. It’s a lesson Rocori learned in the state quarter finals when Fricke blasted two home runs to right-center field.

Winona’s Grace Fricke (29) cheers after hitting a triple during a Section 1AAA softball semi-final game against Byron on Tuesday, May 31, 2022, at Todd Park in Austin.

Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

The opportunity to play at the next level was there for Fricke.

She was the talk of the state tournament, with college coaches on the opposite end of the complex talking her up after she hit her second home run against Rocori. Yet, she decided at the end of the day, playing college softball was not in the cards right now.

Fricke’s mother moved to Georgia for work two years ago, while Fricke and her father stayed in Winona with her guest as she finished high school. She wants to explore the area down there a bit, before pursuing a nursing degree in hopes of becoming a travel nurse.

“It was definitely a hard decision,” Fricke said. “There were few factors for me. I just felt like it would be a lot to try to do both. Obviously people can do it, I just don’t want to be juggling softball and my major together. All the coaches that reached out to me were amazing, I just didn’t feel anyplace was for me.”

She didn’t rule out an eventual return to softball, but she’s going to let time help figure that one out.

“I plan to take a semester off and see what happens,” Fricke said. “I would love to start my career down there (Georgia). We will see what happens.”

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