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Bailee Jerger received Mid-State Conference and Section 8AA honors after leading the Panthers with a 10-8 record on the mound a .424 batting average.

Errors kept Panthers from hitting goals

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  Marion Goeden couldn’t wait for the Park Rapids fastpitch softball team to get the season started.

     The wait was met with mixed results as the Panthers compiled another winning record, but were eliminated in the first round of the Section 8AA playoffs for the second year in a row.

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     Because of the delayed spring, the Panthers weren’t able to work on defense outdoors and didn’t make their season debut until April 23 and their outdoor debut until April 29. That led to a 19-game schedule in a span of a month. Entering the season without being able to practice outdoors proved critical as 76 errors led to 58 unearned runs.

     Despite the inconsistency in the field, the Panthers opened the season with a 5-0 record and sat at 8-2 before ending the season with a 12-8 record. The Panthers won at least 12 games and had a winning record for the seventh year in a row, but were eliminated from the Section 8AA playoffs in the first round for the second consecutive season. Of the team’s 76 errors, 41 were committed in the eight losses.

     “My players handled the long indoor season with integrity. It was tough, but we finally did get outside after clearing snow (off the field) four different times. The sweet part of clearing snow is we had some home games we weren’t supposed to have, but we only had a handful of practices once the season started,” said Goeden. “In reflecting on the season, I tried to prepare them for the flurry of games as best I could. Maybe playing 17 games in three weeks was just too much. If I had to do this again, I think I would plan differently.”

     Because of the extended winter, the Panthers opened the season by sweeping a Mid-State Conference doubleheader against Detroit Lakes at the Fargodome by scores of 19-11 and 3-2 in a pair of five-inning games. The Panthers belted out 16 hits in the season opener.

     The Panthers followed by sweeping Wadena-Deer Creek by scores of 2-1 and 11-4 in two more five-inning conference games before defeating Crosby-Ironton 8-2 in the first game of another conference doubleheader. C-I rebounded to win the second game 12-11. The Panthers had 15 hits in the second games against both W-DC and C-I.

     Pequot Lakes defeated the Panthers 10-1 before Park Rapids earned a split with a 4-3 win in the second game. That would prove to be Pequot Lakes’ only conference loss of the season.

     After defeating Bagley 13-3 in six innings, the Panthers split another conference doubleheader with Staples-Motley, winning the first game 4-3 and losing the second game 10-1.

     Menahga handed the Panthers a 5-4 loss before Park Rapids defeated Pelican Rapids 15-10 behind a season-high 22-hit attack.

     Moorhead defeated the Panthers 8-4 before Park Rapids gained a split with an 11-1 win in six innings in the second game.

     The Panthers ended the regular season by belting out 17 hits and rallying to top Sebeka 9-7 in nine innings, falling at Thief River Falls 13-3 in six innings, and splitting a conference doubleheader against Perham with a 3-1 loss and a 22-3 win in five innings. Park Rapids had 18 hits in the second game against Perham.

     Park Rapids received the No. 3 seed in the south for the Section 8AA tournament and was eliminated with a 10-5 loss to No. 6 Perham in the first round. Fergus Falls defeated Hawley to win the Section 8AA title while Pequot Lakes defeated Staples-Motley to win the Section 6AA title and advance to state.

     Pequot Lakes won the conference title with a 9-1 record and finished at 19-4 overall. Following Park Rapids’ 8-4 mark were Staples-Motley at 7-5, Detroit Lakes at 6-6, W-DC at 5-7, Perham at 3-7 and C-I at 2-10.

     For the season, the Panthers finished with a .332 team batting average while scoring 151 runs on 186 hits, 66 walks and 55 stolen bases. The pitching staff had a 3.56 team ERA, allowing 122 runs on 170 hits and 74 walks.

     “When we were 5-0, we were right where I expected. It was a great start to the season. We took DL twice, who we often split with, and then took two from W-DC, who we often split with. We lacked consistency. We beat two of the best teams in our area with wins over Pequot Lakes and Staples-Motley, but we lost to the two bottom teams in our conference,” said Goeden. “Our bats were good enough to carry us and we had a respectable .332 batting average. Our errors took a toll. We gave up far too many unearned runs. We really felt we had the potential to do more this season. There is something I need to change for next season because this is two years in a row where our errors have been way too high.”

     Leading the Panthers this season were the 12 regulars: seniors Caitlan Isaacson, Ashley Thelen and Katelyn Hilmanowski; juniors Bailee Jerger, Shania Johnson, Lauren Naeve, Nakkita Buckanaga and Morgan Dean; and sophomores Nikki Eischens, Hope Johnson, Sarena Kinkel and Jessie O’Hern.

     Of that group, Jerger and Shania Johnson earned Section 8AA honors and joined Naeve and Buckanaga as Mid-State Conference players. Isaacson and Thelen received all-conference honorable mention honors.

     Jerger led the Panthers’ pitching staff by going 10-8 with a 3.89 ERA. In 19 games and 100 2/3 innings, Jerger allowed 143 hits and 50 walks while striking out 72. Jerger gave up 97 runs with 56 being earned.

     Dean pitched in six games and went 2-0 with a 2.24 ERA. In 25 innings, Dean allowed 25 runs on 27 hits and 24 walks with 29 strikeouts. Only eight of those runs were earned.

     Offensively, Jerger led the team with a .424 batting average (28 for 66) with 16 runs scored, 11 doubles, one home run and 17 RBI. Jerger received the team’s Hitter Award and Hardest Worker Award.

     Shania Johnson started 20 games in center field and hit .406 (26 for 64) with 19 runs, five doubles, one home run and 18 RBI.

     Buckanaga started the season at shortstop before taking over at first base. In 20 games, Buckanaga batted .370 (27 for 73) with 19 runs, 11 doubles, one homer, 18 RBI and nine stolen bases.

     Eischens played 17 games in the outfield and hit .357 (15 for 42) with 16 runs, three RBI and nine stolen bases. Eischens was named the team’s Most Improved Player.

     Dean played in 11 games and hit .348 (8 for 23) with two runs, three doubles and five RBI.

     Naeve was the Panthers’ starting catcher in all 20 games and batted .339 (20 for 59) with 17 runs, three doubles, one triple, 11 RBI and five stolen bases. Naeve received the team’s Golden Glove award.

     Hope Johnson played 16 games in the outfield and at shortstop and batted .306 (11 for 36) with nine runs, four doubles and 11 RBI.

     Hilmanowski started at first base in the first 12 games before suffering a season-ending wrist injury. Hilmanowski batted .300 (9 for 30) with five runs, one double and seven RBI. Hilmanowski earned the team’s Most Spirited Award.

     O’Hern played in 16 games in the outfield and hit .296 (8 for 27) with 10 runs, one triple, five RBI and eight stolen bases.

     Isaacson was the Panthers’ starter at second base in 19 games and batted .244 (11 for 45) with 12 runs, one double, four RBI and six stolen bases.

     Kinkel started 18 games in the outfield and hit .231 (9 for 39) with nine runs, one double, three RBI and four stolen bases.

     Thelen was the Panthers’ starter at third base in 19 games and finished with a .216 batting average (11 for 51) with 13 runs, two doubles, one triple, eight RBI and five stolen bases.

     Also seeing some varsity time were freshmen Sydney Bynum and Carly Waggoner.

     The Panthers have three key spots to fill with the graduation of Hilmanowski, Isaacson and Thelen. However, with the return of nine letterwinners, Goeden is counting on the Panthers to once again contend for the Mid-State Conference title and get past the first round and make a run at winning the section title.

     “Right after our loss to Perham, players were already talking about next year,” said Goeden. “They again have high expectations for themselves on what they want to accomplish next season. You can believe I will do what I can to try and make that happen.”

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