Panthers dominated opposition during 23-2 season
Marion Goeden hopes the members of the Park Rapids fastpitch softball team won't dwell on the final game of the season.
Instead, the Panthers' head coach hopes the team will remember all the other moments from a historic season.
The Panthers went 20-0 during the regular season to earn the No. 1 seed in the South for the Section 8AA tournament. Two losses to defending section champion Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton during the section tournament prevented the Panthers from accomplishing their main goal of qualifying for the state Class AA tournament.
Despite falling short in their quest to compete at state, it was a record-setting season for the Panthers.
The 23-2 overall record set a school record for winning percentage in a season and matched last year's 23-3 record for most wins in a season in the history of the 27-year program. Park Rapids was rated among the top-10 Class AA teams in the state all season, beginning with the No. 9 ranking, moving up to No. 4 midway through the season, tying for the No. 3 spot late in the year and ending rated No. 5.
Park Rapids scored 261 runs while allowing only 56. The Panthers ended 12 games early via the 10-run rule while posting seven shutouts. The 261 runs scored tied the 2011 team for the second most in school history behind last year's 289 and the 56 runs allowed were the third-fewest in school history behind the 2003 team (42) and 2002 team (52). The seven shutouts were second in school history behind the eight recorded in 2008.
In addition, senior Brooke Jerger was chosen to participate in the Minnesota Fastpitch Coaches Association's All-Star Series, which was held June 11 at Mankato. There were 22 players in Class AA chosen. Sophomore Kylee Pachel was named to the Class AA Second Team while Jerger was named an all-state honorable mention player. Those two joined senior Macky Warne as Section 8AA players. Park Rapids also went 8-0 to win the Mid-State Conference title as Jerger, Warne, Pachel, junior Tara Johanning and sophomore Mercedez Bellanger earned all-conference honors. Sophomore Kendra Coborn and freshman Rilee Michaelson received all-conference honorable mention honors.
Also playing key roles for the Panthers this season were seniors Isabel Bagstad and Lizzie Bannerman; sophomore Kendra Coborn and Natalie Kinkel; and freshman Katelyn Weaver.
"The season went incredibly well," said Goeden, who led the Panthers to a winning season for the 11th year in a row and has compiled a 365-212 career record in 27 seasons as head coach. "We came into the season feeling we could beat anyone on our schedule and we did. What surprised me was the wide margins in which we defeated our opponents. It was amazing at how stingy we were in giving up runs. This group bought into the plan and accepted their roles and played for each other. Our team culture had everything to do with our success. These players understand that they are part of something bigger than themselves. Every practice and every game was enjoyable. Everywhere we went, people wanted to talk softball. I love talking softball so that made it even more fun."
Park Rapids set the tone for the season by outscoring the first eight opponents by a 109-11 margin. The Panthers outhit the opposition by a 102-25 margin and committed only nine errors in the field while ending six of those games early because of the 10-run rule.
An 11-hit attack sparked an 11-1 win in five innings over Perham in the season opener, a 14-hit attack led to a 12-4 win over Frazee and a 13-hit attack paved the way in a 15-2 victory in five innings over Crookston.
The Panthers won the title at the 19th annual Park Rapids Invitational for the fifth year in a row (the 2013 tournament was canceled because of the weather) and the 12th time overall by defeating Mahnomen-Waubun 20-0 in five innings in the quarterfinals behind a 17-hit attack, Crookston 11-1 in five innings in the semifinals behind an 11-hit attack, and Barnesville 7-1 in the championship game.
Two more dominating wins followed as a 17-hit attack sparked a 21-1 victory in four innings over Pelican Rapids and an 11-hit attack led to a 12-1 win in six innings over Menahga.
Jerger threw the team's 10th no-hitter in school history as the Panthers outlasted Barnesville 6-0 in nine innings before opening the Mid-State Conference season by sweeping Crosby-Ironton by scores of 20-2 in four innings and 12-0 in five innings. Park Rapids combined for 21 hits in those two games.
Jerger threw another no-hitter as the Panthers edged Detroit Lakes 4-0 in the first game of a conference doubleheader. Park Rapids followed with a 5-1 win for the sweep despite finishing with only 11 hits in the two games.
Park Rapids prevailed in another close conference game as a 15-hit attack led to an 11-10 win in eight innings over Pequot Lakes. The Panthers then used a 14-hit attack for a 20-8 win in six innings in the second game to complete the sweep. Park Rapids won both games despite committing seven errors in those two games.
After defeating Wadena-Deer Creek 11-0 in five innings and Perham 12-1 in five innings, the Panthers capped off their first undefeated season in Mid-State Conference play by sweeping Staples-Motley by scores of 15-3 and 13-1 in five innings. Park Rapids went 8-0 in conference games to repeat as Mid-State champs and claim the conference title for the fourth time in school history.
A 4-1 win over D-G-F in the regular-season finale gave the Panthers a 20-0 record and the No. 1 seed in the South for the Section 8AA tournament.
Park Rapids opened section play with an 8-0 win over Hawley (the No. 4 seed in the South) before being thrown into the losers' bracket with an 11-3 loss to D-G-F (the No. 2 seed in the South). D-G-F had a season-high 13 hits off Park Rapids in that game.
The Panthers stayed alive with a 6-2 win over Warroad (the No. 2 seed in the North) and a 1-0 win over Barnesville (the No. 3 seed in the South) before being eliminated with a 5-2 loss to D-G-F. Park Rapids' offense struggled in the last two games by managing only two hits against Barnesville and six hits in the second playoff game against D-G-F.
"We've got to learn how to handle the nerves a little better," said Goeden. "I feel that was part of the reason our bats went quiet at the end."
Other than the last two games, the Panthers' offense excelled all season. The Panthers finished with a .356 team batting average while stealing 85 bases in averaging 10.4 runs a game. Park Rapids' pitching staff combined for a 2.23 ERA while allowing only 2.2 runs a game.
Pachel led the Panthers with a .463 batting average (37 hits in 80 at bats), including five doubles, three triples and one home run while driving in 28 runs as the starting catcher. Pachel set a school record with 200 putouts.
Jerger concluded a spectacular career by going 17-2 with a 2.42 ERA. The 17 wins matched her total from last season to join Nikki Breitbach for the school record for wins in a season. Jerger led the Panthers by pitching 109 innings with three shutouts and two no-hitters. Jerger allowed 41 runs (31 earned) on 74 hits, 34 walks and five hit batters while striking out 157 (including 15 in one game to tie a school record). Jerger also hit .352 (25 for 71, including seven doubles, one triple and two home runs) with 16 runs scored and 25 RBI in 25 games. When not pitching, Jerger played first base and second base. Jerger ends her career as the Panthers' all-time leading pitcher with 411 strikeouts, second in wins with 43 and fourth in innings pitched at 340. Offensively, Jerger ranks first by being hit 22 times, second with 105 runs scored, fourth with 283 at bats, fourth with 99 hits, fourth with seven triples and tied for second with six home runs.
Kendra Coborn started 25 games in center field and batted .448 (39 for 87, including three triples). Coborn led the team with 39 hits, 39 runs scored and 16 stolen bases while adding 11 RBI.
Warne also played in all 25 games in right field and third base, and hit .421 (32 for 76, including four doubles, three triples and three homers) with 35 runs and 28 RBI while drawing a team-high 16 walks. Warne moved up to the No. 5 spot in school history with 74 career RBI and is tied for the No. 2 spot with six home runs.
Bellanger saw action in all 25 games, playing second base when not pitching. Bellanger batted .402 (33 for 82, including seven doubles, two triples and three home runs) with 37 runs scored, 27 RBI and 13 stolen bases. Bellanger also made six pitching appearances, going 2-0 with one shutout and a 1.89 ERA. In 19 innings, Bellanger gave up six runs (four earned) on 16 hits and four walks while striking out 18.
Kinkel started 18 games at shortstop and hit .338 (22 for 65) with 22 runs scored, 13 stolen bases and nine RBI.
Johanning played 25 games at shortstop and third base and batted .312 (24 for 77, including five doubles, three triples and one home run) with 25 runs scored and 23 RBI.
Kaisa Coborn started 18 games in left field and hit .250 (11 for 44, including two doubles, two triples and a homer) with 14 runs scored and 10 RBI.
Michaelson saw action in 23 games at first base and pitcher, batting .242 (15 for 62, including three doubles and three homers) with 20 runs scored and 13 RBI. Michaelson also saw action on the mound in 13 games, going 4-0 with one save and a 1.64 ERA. Michaelson gave up nine runs (five earned) in 26 innings, allowing 17 hits and 17 walks while striking out 22.
Bagstad (4 for 22 with four runs) and Weaver (5 for 29 with seven runs and five RBI) played in 13 games each while Bannerman (3 for 7 with six runs and six RBI) played in eight games. Also seeing some varsity time were senior Mikayla Koski (2 for 5 in six games) and sophomore Alanna Swanson (eight runs and six stolen bases in seven games).
Receiving team awards were Michaelson (Most Improved Player and Rookie of the Year), Pachel (Silver Slugger), Jerger (Golden Glove), Warne and Kendra Coborn (Hardest Workers), and Johanning (Coaches Award). Park Rapids also received an all-state Academic Silver Award with Bagstad and Warne receiving all-state academic honors.
Even though the Panthers have two key starting spots to fill with the graduation of Jerger and Warne, Goeden is counting on her team to make another run at repeating as conference champs and contending for the section title next spring.
"Our expectations will be similar in the 2018 season. Filling the hole that Brooke and Macky will leave won't be easy. Both have worked very hard and put in time outside the season to acquire the skills they've mastered. They have been a huge part of our success through leadership and work ethic," said Goeden. "We do have the huge core of our team back and they are a talented group. I'm already looking forward to the first day of practice. We will continue to believe we can beat everyone on our schedule. We are already talking about what it will take to win the section.
I'm hoping the experience that our five sophomores and two freshmen gained this year will pay dividends next season. I'm looking for us to get over that final obstacle that has kept us from getting back to state."