Allie Hable at Coon Rapids is ready to explode," Park Center softball coach Steve Ericson said a few weeks ago.

Ericson was complimenting Hable, an up-and-coming pitcher on a team capable of big things. But the statement took on new meaning during a trying third inning last week against Maple Grove.

A botched run-down attempt allowed a run to score. Then Hable gave up a two-run homer. Katie Boden, the Cardinals catcher and long-time friend of Hable, saw her competitive side on their walk back to the pitching circle.

"I think honestly what happened was she got kind of angry," Boden said. "When she gets that way, she tends to throw harder."

Hable retired the next two batters, the second one on a strikeout. Though Maple Grove won 5-3, Hable gave up only two hits and struck out six Crimson batters through the final four innings.

In softball, a pitching-dominated sport, teams often mimic the girl in the circle. Hable, a junior in her fifth varsity season, hopes to push Coon Rapids toward the top of the Northwest Suburban Conference and beyond.

The Cardinals started the season 2-2 but remain confident. They return all but two of their starters from a team that started last season 11-2 but went 3-6 down the stretch. A 12-inning loss to Mounds View ended the season in the section playoffs and created hunger for a better finish.

"This season, more than any other since I've been here, we have so much more potential," Hable said. "This is the best team I've played on."

Hable's willingness to voice her expectations and her competitive edge during games are welcomed changes.

"She's developing a passion for the game where before she was a more timid, shy player," Cardinals coach Jami Holoien said. "It's really fun to see that because it's not something you can coach."

Hable's passion was tested by a back injury. Two bulging discs in her back knocked her out of summer training leading to her sophomore year and wiped out her fall volleyball plans.

Physical therapy helped prepare her for softball last spring, though she wasn't the same girl who hurled a no-hitter against Champlin Park as a freshman and followed up with 11 strikeouts against Blaine.

"I was so nervous about it," Hable said. "And my mechanics were really off because I was trying to compensate for it."

Hable fought back, refusing to let the injury stop her and rekindling her love for softball in the process.

"I just thought, 'Why would I go out there and throw like it was nothing?'" Hable said.

She is not the only mentally tough pitcher in the family. Older brother Ryan started the 2008 Class 3A baseball state championship with a 1-4 record but gave up only four hits as Coon Rapids won the state title.

Then a seventh-grader, Hable watched her brother at Midway Stadium and vowed to become a player with similar gumption.

"He is good in high-pressure situations and that's the attitude I try to have," she said.

Pulling Coon Rapids into the chase for conference and playoff glory will pressure Hable and her teammates all season. But the Cardinals say they are ready.

"She's been saying more and more before games how she wants to beat the teams were playing and how she wants our team to be better," Boden said. "She knows she has a leadership position on the team and she's really buckled down."

David La Vaque • 612-673-7574