Panthers produce successful season
With a veteran group returning, Marion Goeden expected a successful season from the Park Rapids fastpitch softball team.
The Panthers accomplished that by producing a winning record for the eighth year in a row. But despite posting a 16-8 overall record, the Panthers fell short of their goals of winning the Mid-State Conference title and playing in the Section 8AA championship game.
“Because of the experience and leadership of this team, we set very high goals for this season,” said Goeden. “We did not meet our goals. We hoped to win more than 16 games and be in the finals of the section. However, when I think of how we played in our first game of the season and where we ended in the final game, we progressed immensely over 24 games.”
After opening the season by committing five errors in a 7-2 loss to Menahga, the Panthers won the title at the Park Rapids Invitational with victories over Nevis (17-0 in five innings), Pine River-Backus (10-2) and Norman County West (14-3 in five innings). Park Rapids belted out 20 hits against Nevis and 12 hits against NCW.
A 16-hit attack led the Panthers to an 11-10 win over Detroit Lakes in the Mid-State Conference opener before the Lakers scored five times in the bottom of the seventh to gain a split with a 10-9 win in the second game. The Panthers had 11 hits, but made seven errors in that loss.
Four conference wins followed as the Panthers swept Wadena-Deer Creek by scores of 12-3 and 18-6 in five innings and Crosby-Ironton by scores of 11-0 and 17-0 in a pair of five-inning games.
Park Rapids’ bid to win the conference title was denied as Pequot Lakes swept a doubleheader by scores of 5-2 and 4-3 and Staples-Motley won both games by scores of 3-0 and 19-5 in five innings. The Panthers were held to only 13 hits and committed 14 errors in those four conference losses.
The Panthers closed the regular season with a six-game winning streak. Park Rapids had 20 hits and took advantage of 10 errors in a 29-5 win in five innings over Bagley before sweeping a conference doubleheader from Perham by scores of 15-1 in five innings and 5-4 in eight innings. The Panthers scored the game-winner in the bottom of the seventh in a 3-2 win over Thief River Falls before sweeping a pair of games from Sebeka by scores of 11-1 in six innings and 13-2 in five innings.
Going 7-5 in the conference tied Park Rapids with Detroit Lakes for third place. Pequot Lakes won the conference title with a 12-0 record while Staples-Motley went 7-2. Rounding out the conference standings were Perham at 3-6, W-DC at 2-8 and C-I at 0-12. Staples-Motley won the Section 6AA title and lost in the consolation final at the state Class AA tournament while Pequot Lakes lost to Hermantown in the Section 7AA title game.
Finishing with a 14-6 record gave the Panthers the No. 3 seed in the north for the Section 8AA tournament. Park Rapids used a 12-hit attack to defeat No. 6 Mahnomen/Waubun 17-2 in five innings in the first game before dropping into the losers’ bracket with a 3-2 loss to No. 2 East Grand Forks.
The Panthers stayed alive in the double-elimination tournament with a 9-5 win over Northern Freeze (the No. 5 seed in the north) before being eliminated with a 6-3 loss to Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, the No. 4 seed in the south.
Hawley, the No. 2 seed in the south, defeated D-G-F 7-6 in the section title game. Hawley finished fourth at the state Class A tournament.
“We actually played very well in the playoffs,” said Goeden. “Against EGF and DGF, we had no errors and produced seven hits in both games but could not come up with the timely hit. On several occasions we hit the ball very hard with the bases loaded and narrowly missed it getting through. I don’t know a time where I’ve had a team play so well and not be rewarded. This team was focused and very hard working. They were on a mission and it showed. This team is as good as others that I’ve coached in the section finals.”
For the season, the Panthers averaged 9.9 runs a game while allowing 4.3 runs a game. Park Rapids had a team batting average of .325 and a team ERA of 2.13. The 16 wins marked the seventh time in school history the Panthers had reached that mark in victories.
Leading the Panthers to another successful season were the 12 letterwinners: seniors Lauren Naeve, Bailee Jerger, Shania Johnson, Charity Ridlon, Morgan Dean and Christina Smith; juniors Nicole Eischens, Jessie O’Hern, Sarena Kinkel and Hope Johnson; freshman Brooke Jerger; and eighth grader Tara Johanning.
Naeve and Bailee Jerger earned Section 8AA honors and joined Brooke Jerger as all-conference players. Shania Johnson and Ridlon were all-conference honorable mention players.
Naeve led the Panthers in hitting with a .402 average (33 hits in 82 at bats) to earn the team’s Silver Slugger award and also received the team’s Golden Glove award after starting at catcher for the fourth year. Naeve scored 35 runs and had 24 RBI in 24 games and ended her four-year varsity career with a .370 batting average. Naeve shattered the school record with 567 putouts and tied the school record by throwing out 27 runners trying to steal. Naeve also ranks in the top 5 in hits (second with 107), walks (second with 63), at bats (second with 296) and runs scored (third with 92).
Bailee Jerger also graduates among the top players in school history. Jerger broke the school record for doubles with 30, tied the school record for career RBI with 83 and tied the school record for hits in a game with five. Jerger also ranks second for career wins (39) and career strikeouts (314) as a pitcher. During her senior season, Jerger hit .366 (30 for 82) with 22 runs and a team-leading 28 RBI in 24 games. On the mound, Jerger went14-8 with two saves and a 1.94 ERA, allowing 33 earned runs on 99 hits and 47 walks with 152 strikeouts. Jerger threw a no-hitter in the second game against C-I, threw one-hitters against Nevis and Northern Freeze, and allowed only two hits in five games. In three varsity seasons, Jerger hit .420 with 83 RBI and 70 runs while going 39-22 with a 3.23 ERA in 342 innings. Jerger was named the team’s Hardest Worker.
Brooke Jerger was second on the team in hitting with a .397 average (31 for 78) and led the team with 38 runs and 14 stolen bases in 24 games. Jerger also had 16 RBI as the starting second baseman.
Ridlon made an impact in her first varsity season, batting .385 (25 for 65) with 23 runs and 25 RBI in 23 games as the starter at first base. Ridlon was named the Panthers’ Most Improved Player.
Shania Johnson completed her third season as a starting outfielder by batting .373 (28 for 75) with 19 RBI, 23 runs and seven stolen bases in 24 games. In her varsity career, Johnson hit .400 with 52 runs and 50 RBI.
Eischens started 21 games in center field and hit .316 (18 for 57) with 13 RBI, 17 runs and eight stolen bases.
Hope Johnson was the starter at third base in 22 games. Johnson batted .258 (17 for 66) with 13 RBI and 19 runs. Johnson received the team’s Most Spirited Player honor.
O’Hern played 15 games in the infield and outfield and hit .250 (7 for 28) with eight RBI and 12 runs.
Smith also hit .250 (1 for 4) with four runs in six games as an outfielder. Smith received the Coaches Award.
Kinkel started 24 games in the outfield and hit .237 (14 for 59) with 15 runs, seven stolen bases and three RBI.
Dean played 20 games at first base and designated hitter and batted .216 (11 for 51) with 11 runs and 15 RBI. Dean also went 2-0 with a save and a 4.20 ERA in 20 innings, allowing 12 earned runs with 21 strikeouts and 22 walks on the mound.
Johanning started 24 games at shortstop and hit .194 (6 for 31) with seven RBI and nine runs.
Also seeing some varsity playing time were sophomore Carly Waggoner (three runs in four games) and Sydney Bynum (two runs in three games) and freshman Mackenzie Warne (five runs in seven games).
Replacing the six seniors is going to be tough, but Goeden is counting on the six returning letterwinners to lead the Panthers to another successful season next spring.
“We will have to work hard to fill the spots of these six seniors. Our seniors had much to do with the success of our team. The experience they brought, how they believed in the process and how they showed the younger players what Panther Fastpitch looks like will go far beyond their senior year,” said Goeden. “Looking to next season, we will have six players back and we have players from a successful JV season who will help us compete. We will have to find some hitters who can fill the top four spots in the batting lineup. My expectations will be high. The players will need to come into our season in shape and will have to put in extra time developing their skills. You can’t wish your way into the section championship.”