Seniors sparked Panthers' success
Compiling a winning record for the 11th time in the last 12 years was satisfying for Marion Goeden and the Park Rapids fastpitch softball team.
However, going 14-9 and finishing second in the Mid-State Conference with a 9-3 record fell short of meeting the team's major goals.
"We were excited about our success this season, yet disappointed that we did not meet more of our goals, such as winning the conference," said Goeden. "We were so very close on several of our goals, but came up a run short a couple of times."
The Panthers put themselves in position to contend for the conference title by sweeping Pequot Lakes (11-0 and 11-1 in a pair of five-inning games) and Detroit Lakes (15-4 in six innings and 5-2). A 12-2 win in six innings over Perham gave the Panthers a 5-0 record in the conference before three errors led to seven unearned runs in a 7-3 loss to Perham in the second game of a doubleheader.
After defeating Staples-Motley 7-1 and 17-5 in five innings, the Panthers had their bid to win the conference title denied with a pair of losses to Wadena-Deer Creek. The Panthers lost the opener 14-3 in five innings and the second game 3-2 as four errors led to two unearned runs. W-DC went undefeated to repeat as conference champs.
Park Rapids ended the conference schedule with a pair of wins over Crosby-Ironton (10-0 in six innings and 25-2 in five innings).
In non-conference games, the Panthers split eight games. Park Rapids defeated Pine River-Backus 5-0 and lost to Lake of the Woods 7-6 in the bottom of the seventh inning at the Park Rapids Invitational. The Panthers also dropped a 2-1 decision to Menahga in the bottom of the seventh inning and dropped an 11-2 decision to Thief River Falls. After defeating Bagley 4-3 and Pelican Rapids 9-4, the Panthers closed out the regular season with a 7-5 loss at Sebeka as five errors led to seven unearned runs.
For the Section 8AA tournament, Park Rapids received the No. 2 seed in the north and opened tournament play with an 8-4 win over No. 7 Crookston and a 12-7 victory over No. 6 Detroit Lakes. The Panthers were eliminated from the double-elimination playoffs with a 14-9 loss to No. 1 Thief River Falls (where five errors led to seven unearned runs) and a 7-3 loss to Frazee (where three errors led to four unearned runs). Frazee was the No. 3 seed in the south.
"On one hand we played some very good softball and really enjoyed our time on the field together. On the other hand, unearned runs kept us from meeting several of our goals," said Goeden. "Our goals were attainable. We did not meet our expectations in comparison to the goals we had set for ourselves. But this team was talented and focused, which made working with them so rewarding."
The Panthers did put up some impressive numbers by batting .333 as a team for the third best average in school history. The pitching staff also had a solid 2.78 ERA and had 140 strikeouts compared to 24 walks. Defensively, the Panthers committed only 52 errors, but those led to 50 unearned runs.
"We did meet our goals for team batting average and limiting errors," said Goeden. "This group worked hard and loved the defensive part of the game. We had our challenges within the season, but we were able to work through them as a team."
Leading the Panthers this season were the 11 letterwinners: seniors Cady Clinton, Danielle Dent, Brittany Gartner and Morgan Kelly; juniors Maria Goetz, Jenny Palm, Leeza Tostenson, Brie Warne and Shelby Weckwerth; and sophomores Alyssa Carlson and Anna Grimes.
Dent started at catcher for all 23 games and led the team with a .462 batting average (36 for 78) and a school-record 16 doubles. Dent also had two home runs and drove in 16 runs to earn the team's Hitter's Award.
Dent earned all-section and all-conference honors and ended her four-year varsity career with a .383 batting average (100 for 261), 75 RBI, 23 doubles, four triples, three homers and 17 runs scored while throwing out 17 runners trying to steal and tallying 388 putouts in 78 games. Dent ranks second in school history in hits, third in RBI, putouts and runners caught stealing, and fifth in doubles.
Clinton was the Panthers' starting pitcher in 13 games and went 8-5 with a 1.67 ERA. In 71 1/3 innings, Clinton allowed 84 hits and three walks while striking out 47. Clinton gave up 49 runs, but only 17 of those were earned. Clinton threw three shutouts, including a no-hitter against Crosby-Ironton. At the plate, Clinton hit .318 (28 for 88) with 23 runs, three doubles, one triple, a team-leading 13 stolen bases and 14 RBI in 23 games and played first base when not pitching. Clinton also received the team's Golden Glove award for making only one error all season.
Clinton also earned all-section and all-conference honors and ended her career with a .350 batting average (81 for 231) with 58 runs, 46 RBI, nine doubles, five triples and 28 stolen bases in 70 games. On the mound, Clinton had a 23-17 record with three saves and a 3.98 ERA. In 240 2/3 innings, Clinton gave up 315 hits and 214 runs (96 earned) with 64 walks and 151 strikeouts. Clinton ranks third in school history in wins and fourth in strikeouts and innings pitched.
Kelly started 23 games in right field and batted .296 (21 for 71) with 14 runs, one double, 18 RBI and three stolen bases. Kelly earned all-conference honorable mention honors and the team's Most Improved Player award. During her varsity career, Kelly hit .262 (21 for 80) with 15 runs and 20 RBI in 31 games.
Gartner received the team's Most Spirited Award and was the Panthers' starter at first base. In 23 games, Gartner hit .270 (17 for 63) with 15 runs, nine RBI, three doubles, one triple and three stolen bases. During her varsity career, Gartner played in 44 games and hit .258 (30 for 116) with 31 runs and 21 RBI.
"Dani, Cady, Brittany and Morgan were instrumental in the season we had, not only because of the skill level at which they played, but because of the experience and leadership they brought to the team and program," said Goeden. "All four seniors made a huge contribution to our success."
Goetz earned all-conference honors after hitting .343 (23 for 67) with 22 runs, four doubles, 15 RBI and four stolen bases in 23 games as the starter in left field.
Tostenson also played in all 23 games and started at third base. Tostenson was second on the team in hitting with a .425 average (34 for 80) and led the team with 24 runs and 24 RBI. Tostenson also had eight doubles, three triples, two home runs and 10 stolen bases.
Warne played in 23 games as a pitcher and designated hitter. Warne had a .361 batting average (26 for 72) with 12 runs, four doubles, one triple, five stolen bases and 14 RBI. In 71 innings as a pitcher, Warne went 6-5 with two saves and a 3.94 ERA. Warne started 10 games and allowed 78 hits and 21 walks while striking out 93. Warne gave up 40 earned runs and 57 total runs and received the team's Coaches Award.
Palm started 23 games at second base and batted .273 (18 for 66) with 13 runs, five doubles, eight RBI and nine stolen bases.
Weckwerth started 23 games in center field and hit .222 (4 for 18) with five runs, two RBI and three stolen bases.
Carlson was the starter at shortstop in all 23 games and hit .291 (16 for 55) with 14 runs, two doubles, 13 RBI and five stolen bases.
Grimes served as a courtesy runner in 15 games and had five stolen bases and scored 18 runs.
Junior Hailey Lundin (13 runs in 12 games), sophomore Taylor Ondracek (four runs in six games) and freshman Katie Just (one run in two games) also saw some varsity action this spring.
Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers have four key players to replace. However, with the return of six starters and several talented junior varsity players, Goeden is looking for the Panthers to produce another winning season in 2010.
"Replacing the duo of Cady and Danielle and the right side of the field will be one our bigger challenges for next season," said Goeden. "The nice thing about softball is that you can lose four important players yet return six who have a season or two worth of experience. That is a pretty strong core of players to bring back for the next go around. We are excited for our program's numbers and are trying to find the best way to develop the number of girls we have to their fullest potential. I believe next year's team will again look to set their goals high. I'm eager for next year."