Panthers continue winning tradition
Despite having to replace one of the best batteries in school history, the Park Rapids fastpitch softball team produced one of its best seasons in school history.
Going into the season, the Panthers had to fill the spots of pitcher Cady Clinton and catcher Danielle Dent. Clinton graduated with 23 wins for the No. 3 spot and 151 strikeouts for the No. 5 spot in school history while Dent ranked second with 100 hits, third with 75 RBI and third by throwing out 17 runners attempting to steal.
Seniors Leeza Tostenson and Brie Warne were counted on to fill those positions. Those two delivered by breaking school records of their own in leading the Panthers to an 18-7 overall record.
Tostenson broke the school record with 38 RBI and four home runs in a season while Warne set a school record with 15 strikeouts in a game and 176 strikeouts in a season.
While those two players were establishing individual school records, the play of the other varsity players - seniors Shelby Weckwerth and Jenny Palm; juniors Alyssa Carlson, Carson Lee Christenson, Ashley Domino, Anna Grimes, Taylor Ondracek, Amber Sunram and Lizzy Vaudrin; sophomores Olivia Vaadeland and Bonnie Baumgartner; and freshman Caitlin Isaacson - were just as important in leading the Panthers to the second most wins in school history.
The Panthers set the tone for the season by winning nine of their first 10 games.
After opening the season with a 3-1 win over Bagley, the Panthers reached the championship game of the Park Rapids Tournament by defeating Crookston (9-1) and Pine River-Backus (12-2 in six innings). Lake of the Woods defended its title with an 11-4 win over the Panthers in the championship game.
Park Rapids responded from that loss to sweep a Mid-State Conference doubleheader from Crosby-Ironton by scores of 12-0 and 20-0 in a pair of five-inning games. Warne threw a no-hitter, striking out 15 and allowing one walk in the first game while Vaadeland threw a one-hitter in the second game.
Following a 3-1 win over Menahga (which qualified for the state Class A tournament), the Panthers swept another conference doubleheader from defending Mid-State champion Wadena-Deer Creek, winning the first game 3-2 and the second game 12-6.
A 5-4 win over Perham gave the Panthers a 5-0 record in conference play before the Yellowjackets salvaged a split with a 2-0 win in the second game.
The Panthers improved to 11-2 on the season with an 11-1 win over Thief River Falls and a 6-5 victory over Pelican Rapids.
Park Rapids split a conference doubleheader with Detroit Lakes by rebounding from an 11-2 loss in the first game with a 6-3 win in the second game. The Panthers also split a pair of conference games with Staples-Motley, winning the opener 9-1 before dropping the second game 9-6.
In the conference finale, the Panthers swept Pequot Lakes by scores of 7-5 in eight innings and 17-8 to end conference play with a 9-3 record. Detroit Lakes went 11-1 as Park Rapids had to settle for runner-up honors in the conference for the third year in a row.
An 11-4 loss to Sebeka in the regular-season finale gave the Panthers a 15-5 overall mark and the No. 2 seed in the north half of the Section 8AA tournament.
Park Rapids opened tournament play with a 13-3 six-inning victory over No. 7 Crookston and a 3-2 win over No. 3 Thief River Falls. The Panthers scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to advance to the section semifinals.
In the double-elimination portion of the tournament, the Panthers lost to No. 5 Warroad 2-1 before eliminating Pequot Lakes, the No. 7 seed from the south, 2-1. A 13-2 five-inning loss to Warroad ended the Panthers' season at 18-7. The 18 wins were one shy of the school record. The Panthers went 19-4 in 2003.
For the season, the Panthers averaged 6.8 runs a game while allowing 4.2 runs a game. Park Rapids had a team batting average of .310 and a team ERA of 2.41.
"When the season started, I was not sure what kind of season we would have. I was not sure how these athletes would pull together or how they would fill the positions left vacant from last year," said Park Rapids head coach Marion Goeden. "We set the bar high in our program. Even with that, this team exceeded what I thought we might do this year. We found players who filled positions beyond what I thought we could do."
Tostenson led the offense by hitting .462 (36 for 78) with 14 runs, 10 doubles, two triples, four homers, five stolen bases and 38 RBI in 23 games. Those numbers earned Tostenson all-conference, all-section and all-state honorable mention honors. Tostenson also tied the school record with five hits against W-DC and six career home runs and her 10 career triples rank second in school history. In four varsity seasons, Tostenson hit .413 (81 for 196) with 49 runs and 68 RBI.
Warne also earned all-conference and all-section honors after going 16-6 with a 2.29 ERA. In 150 innings, Warne allowed 167 hits and 94 runs (49 earned) with 26 walks and 176 strikeouts. At the plate, Warne hit .275 (22 for 80) with 11 RBI in 25 games. In two varsity seasons for the Panthers, Warne hit .316 (48 for 152) with 25 RBI and had a 22-11 record with two saves and a 3.11 ERA. In 221 innings, Warne struck out 269 (to rank third in school history) and walked 47.
Weckwerth solidified the outfield in center field and capped off her senior season by earning all-conference honors. In 25 games, Weckwerth shared the team lead with 15 stolen bases and hit .328 (21 for 64) with 19 runs and eight RBI. Weckwerth played four years on varsity, finishing with a .272 batting average (25 for 92) with 28 runs and 21 stolen bases.
Palm started 25 games at second base and received all-conference honorable mention honors. Palm had a .164 batting average (10 for 61) with nine runs, nine RBI and three stolen bases. In two varsity seasons, Palm batted .220 (28 for 127) with 22 runs, 17 RBI and 12 stolen bases.
Carlson started all 25 games at shortstop and earned all-conference honorable mention honors after hitting .345 (29 for 84) with 24 runs, 14 stolen bases and 18 RBI.
Vaadeland also earned all-conference honorable mention honors after hitting .354 (29 for 82) with 21 runs and 23 RBI in 25 games. Vaadeland had five doubles, three triples, two homers and five stolen bases while starting at first base. Vaadeland also pitched, going 2-0 with one save and a 3.65 ERA. In 15 1/3 innings, Vaadeland had 22 strikeouts and gave up 14 hits and 13 walks while allowing 11 runs (eight earned).
Christenson took over the starting spot in left field and hit .394 (28 for 71) with 12 stolen bases, four RBI and a team-leading 25 runs scored in 25 games. Christenson received all-section honors and tied the school record with five hits against Pequot Lakes.
Domino was the starter in right field, hitting .111 (4 for 36) with five runs and six RBI in 25 games.
Ondracek, Grimes and Vaudrin filled in as outfielders, courtesy runners and designated hitters. Ondracek hit .241 (7 for 29) with five runs and six RBI in 21 games. Grimes batted .344 (11 for 32) with 22 runs and 15 stolen bases in 22 games. Vaudrin hit .500 (7 for 14) with eight runs and five RBI in 15 games.
Sunram and Isaacson alternated at third base with Sunram batting .138 (4 for 29) in 17 games and Isaacson playing 10 games.
Baumgartner served as a courtesy runner, scoring 11 runs in 17 games.
Receiving team awards were Tostenson (Golden Glove and Hitter's Award), Weckwerth (Coaches Award), Vaadeland and Christenson (co-Most Improved Players), and Vaudrin (Most Spirited Award).
"Our seniors set some records that will be very hard to break. They were very good at what they did and it is going to be difficult to repeat what they accomplished," said Goeden. "This group will be missed very much. Each contributed in such a big way to the success of our season."
Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers once again have to replace their battery as well as Weckwerth in centerfield and Palm at second base. However, Goeden is looking for the Panthers to once again contend for conference and section titles.
"I don't see next year as a rebuilding year. I see our athletes building on the experience we gained this season," said Goeden. "We will have a group of seniors with very strong leadership skills and with some great softball skills. They have passion for this game and it carries through on the field. They understand how our program works and what it takes to be at the top. I am really excited to work with next year's team."