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Panthers look to leave own legacy

Providing leadership for the Park Rapids fastpitch softball team this season will be seniors (from left) Katie Just, Lexi Burlingame, Erika Jerger, Olivia Vaadeland and Brittany Kinkel.

Marion Goeden is hoping the Park Rapids girls fastpitch softball team can duplicate what happened last season.

A year ago, the Panthers returned only four varsity players and had seven players in new positions. All that team accomplished was going 19-7 to tie the school record for wins in a season and advancing to the section championship game for only the fourth time in school history.

Leading the Panthers last season were the senior trio of Alyssa Carlson, Ashley Domino and Anna Grimes. All three received Section 8AA and Mid-State Conference honors.

Carlson completed her third year as the starting shortstop by batting .465 (40 for 86) with 34 runs and 23 RBI and led the team with 26 walks, 14 stolen bases and 52 assists. Carlson ended her career ranked No. 2 in runs scored (93), No. 5 in hits (87) and No. 5 in assists (122) in school history.

Domino moved from right field to center field and hit .476 (50 for 105) with 39 runs and 35 RBI. Domino broke the school record for hits in a season.

Grimes was a designated player and outfielder who led the Panthers in hitting with a .489 average (45 for 92) while compiling 37 runs, 18 RBI and 10 stolen bases. Grimes broke the school record with 45 singles in a season.

Bailee Jerger also leaves a key spot to fill after batting .448 (39 for 87) with 32 runs and a team-leading 38 RBI, which tied the school record. Jerger also went 15-6 with a 3.94 ERA, allowing 69 earned runs while striking out 90 in 122 innings in her varsity debut. Jerger, a sophomore, is serving as a foreign exchange student in Australia this year.

Those four helped the Panthers set school records for team batting average (.389), runs scored (261) and double plays (12) in a season.

While replacing those four players is going to be tough, Goeden is looking for the seven returning varsity players to lead the way to another successful season.

Being counted on to lead the Panthers this season are seniors Lexi Burlingame, Erika Jerger, Katie Just and Olivia Vaadeland; juniors Caitlin Isaacson and Ashley Thelen; and sophomore Lauren Naeve.

Vaadeland played in 22 games and was an all-conference honorable mention player last season after batting .398 (33 for 83) with 18 runs and 25 RBI. Vaadeland, who mostly played first base last year, also pitched, going 3-0 with one save and a 4.83 ERA. Vaadeland allowed 29 earned runs and struck out 47 in 42 innings.

Just and Jerger will return to the outfield. Just played in 22 games and hit .339 (19 for 56) with 12 runs and 12 RBI while Jerger played in 21 games and batted .326 (14 for 43) with 14 runs and nine RBI. Just will take over in center field.

Burlingame played in 19 games at first base and as a designated player and batted .333 (9 for 27) with 10 runs and five RBI. Burlingame will play either first or second base.

Thelen will return to third base and the outfield after batting .254 (18 for 71) with 20 runs and 16 RBI in 25 games at those positions last season.

Isaacson will move to shortstop after hitting .328 (20 for 61) with 16 runs and 13 RBI last season in 26 starts at second base.

Naeve returns behind the plate after catching all 26 games and hitting .354 (29 for 82) with 18 runs and 16 RBI.

Looking to fill the other starting spots will be senior Brittany Kinkel (outfielder/designated hitter), junior Katelyn Hilmanowski (catcher/first base), and sophomores Nakkita Buckanaga (pitcher/infielder), Morgan Dean (pitcher/outfielder) and Shania Johnson (infielder/outfielder).

"Alyssa, Anna and Ashley left quite a legacy last season. It will be hard to replace their skills in the field, at the plate and especially their positive influence on the team," said Goeden. "Once again we will have very few players in the same position as last season. It's hard to tell right now what kind of defense we will pull together. There are signs that make me think our defense will be tough. We need to improve in every area of the game to be respectable this season. We lost some big bats and we aren't as quick on the bases as last season. I am very impressed with the senior leadership of this team. If that is an indication of how this season will go, we will be unified and selfless."

Starting the season on the junior varsity will be sophomore Ashley Hocking and freshmen Kendra Anderson, Desi Ceminski, Nicole Eischens, Lindsey Girtz, Hannah Hensel, Shania Jackson, Hope Johnson, Vanessa Kangas, Sarena Kinkel, Abby Kisner, Katie Klein, Jessie O'Hern, Lauren Rossman and Lindy Schmid.

Duplicating last year's runner-up finish in the conference standings with a 9-3 record, winning 19 games and advancing to the Section 8AA title game will provide a challenge for this year's team. But Goeden is counting on the Panthers to once again challenge the top teams in the conference and section.

"I expect us to go .500 and compete for the conference title. I feel our conference is up for grabs and Fergus Falls and Hawley will be tough in the section," said Goeden. "In order to meet these goals, we need to out-practice our opponents every day. We will have to do the little things right every day and on every play. We will need to know what the game plan is and follow it. I am up for the challenge we face rebuilding this season. It's going to be fun."