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Panthers relying on veteran pitching staff, team quickness to key success

Senior Brittany Gartner is one of 10 returning letter winners for the Park Rapids fastpitch softball team. (Vance Carlson / Enterprise)

Marion Goeden will be counting on a veteran pitching staff and quickness on the base paths to spark the Park Rapids fastpitch softball team to another successful season.

The Panthers have five starting spots to fill from last year's team that tied for second place in the Mid-State Conference with an 8-4 record and finished with a 12-9 overall mark.

Among the five players the Panthers have to replace are Heather Tretbar and Amber Rowland, who are two of the top hitters in the history of the program.

Tretbar (a five-year starter at shortstop and an all-conference, all-section and all-state honorable mention player) holds the school record for hits (149), at bats (348) and runs scored (148) while Rowland ranks second in doubles (26) and third in total hits (89). Tretbar hit .507 (35 for 69) with 43 runs while Rowland batted .485 (32 for 66) with 27 RBI last season.

The other starters who graduated are outfielders Holly Roepke (an all-conference player who hit .355 and scored 28 runs) and Kelli Schweigart (.234 average) and second baseman Anna Fossen (.211 average).

Looking to lead the Panthers to their 11th winning record in the last 12 seasons are the 10 returning letterwinners: seniors Cady Clinton, Danielle Dent, Brittany Gartner and Morgan Kelly; juniors Maria Goetz, Hailey Lundin, Jenny Palm, Leeza Tostenson and Shelby Weckwerth; and sophomore Alyssa Carlson.

Clinton, a Mid-State Conference player, will lead the Panthers' pitching staff after going 12-9 with a 3.62 ERA last season. Clinton pitched 116 innings, allowing 60 earned runs on 168 hits with 39 walks and 81 strikeouts. Clinton also batted .405 (30 for 74) with 20 runs, four doubles, three triples, 19 RBI and nine stolen bases in 21 games. When not pitching, Clinton will play an infield position.

Dent was named to the Section 8AA team and was an all-conference honorable mention player as the Panthers' starting catcher. Dent batted .434 (33 for 76) with four runs, three doubles, two triples, one home run and a team-leading 31 RBI in 21 games.

Gartner started at first base and batted .245 (13 for 53) with 16 runs and 13 RBI in 21 games.

Goetz batted .382 (13 for 34) with 17 runs, six stolen bases and four RBI in 17 games as an outfielder. Goetz will also serve as the back-up catcher this season.

Tostenson hit .323 (10 for 31) with seven runs, five RBI and five stolen bases in 11 games at third base.

The other five returning letterwinners will be looking to fill in the other starting spots.

Kelly saw action in the outfield in eight games. Lundin played 12 games last season. Palm played in 15 games, scoring 10 runs and stealing 10 bases as a courtesy runner. Weckwerth played 13 games as an outfielder. Carlson scored 21 runs and had nine steals in 20 games as a courtesy runner.

Kelly and Weckwerth will start in the outfield with Lundin, Palm and Carlson vying for the starting spots at second base and shortstop. Lundin and Palm will also see time in the outfield.

Providing depth will be junior Brie Warne (who transferred from Fargo) and sophomore Ashley Domino (who had a 2.55 ERA while allowing 11 hits, nine walks and eight strikeouts in five games and 11 innings last season). Both will give the Panthers depth on the mound this season.

That group will be looking to improve on last year's offensive totals of 85 stolen bases and 207 runs while cutting down on the 79 errors which helped lead to 142 runs scored.

"It's an advantage when the battery returns with the experience Cady and Dani have. Brie pitched in Fargo last season, which gives us two pitchers with talent and experience," said Goeden, whose team set a school record by batting .352 as a team while averaging almost 10 runs a game last spring. "I expect solid play at first and third with the experience we gained last year. We do have some quick athletes that will be a plus in the outfield and on the bases. This is an enthusiastic and spirited group of players. We have been working on mixing up the game with some of the fun of the short game."

Starting out the season on the junior varsity will be sophomores Kelsey Adolphson, Anna Grimes, Callie Irmen, Jessica Johnson, Leah Meinert, Taylor Ondracek, Mariah Parsons, Desiree Roach, Malissa Rogers, Amber Sunram and Lizzy Vaudrin; and freshmen Bonnie Baumgartner, Allison Belfiori, Alexis Burlingame, Abby Gartner, Allie Girtz, Erika Jerger, Katie Just, Brittany Kinkel, Tina Niemela, Olivia Vaadeland, Taylor Wheeler, Taylor Yliniemi and Allycia Zinke.

Ken Tretbar returns as the assistant varsity coach with Aarin Galzki coaching the junior varsity with help from Amanda Novack.

Even though there are five starting spots to replace, the Panthers are expecting to keep their winning tradition going and challenge for top spots in the conference and section.

"I am challenging every member of this team to provide strong, positive leadership. Whether we can play as a unified team and put what's best for the team ahead of all else will be important in meeting our goals," said Goeden, whose team is scheduled to open the season at Menahga Tuesday. "Despite filling new positions at shortstop, second, center field, right field and designated hitter, I expect us to have a strong season."