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Panthers continue winning tradition

Olivia Vaadeland earned Mid-State Conference and Section 8AA honors in leading the Panthers to a 12-9 record.1 / 2
Lexi Burlingame received Mid-State Conference and Section 8AA honors in leading the Panthers to a 12-9 record.2 / 2

It's become a tradition that the Park Rapids fastpitch softball team will produce a winning record.

The Panthers continued that tradition this season.

Even though the Panthers didn't meet their goals of winning the Mid-State Conference title and returning to the Section 8AA championship game, they did compile a 12-9 overall record. That was the sixth year in a row and the 14th time in the last 15 seasons that Park Rapids has ended the season with at least 12 victories and a winning record.

Park Rapids started the season on a strong note by defeating Bagley (6-4) and winning the Park Rapids Invitational for the eighth time with wins over Perham (16-5 in five innings), Bagley (11-3) and Norman County (7-0). A 9-5 win over Perham gave the Panthers a 2-0 record in Mid-State Conference play and a 5-0 overall record.

The Panthers ended the regular season by going 5-5 in conference play and 7-8 overall.

Detroit Lakes capitalized on 10 Park Rapids errors in the first game to sweep a conference doubleheader by scores of 11-6 and 11-4. Wadena-Deer Creek took advantage of six Park Rapids errors to split a conference doubleheader. W-DC won the first game 9-6 before the Panthers salvaged a split with a 7-6 win in the second game. Pequot Lakes held the Panthers to only nine hits in sweeping a conference doubleheader by scores of 12-1 and 12-0. Both games lasted only five innings because of the 10-run rule.

Park Rapids rebounded from that stretch by putting together a three-game winning streak by defeating Staples-Motley 11-10 and 11-6 in a Mid-State doubleheader and defeating Pelican Rapids 18-8 in six innings.

After a 10-2 loss to Lake of the Woods, the Panthers ended conference play by sweeping Crosby-Ironton 12-1 in five innings and 7-2. That gave Park Rapids a 7-5 record in the conference for third place behind Pequot Lakes' 12-0 mark and Detroit Lakes' 8-4 record.

To close out the regular season, the Panthers lost to Thief River Falls 8-5, overcame nine errors to edge Menahga 13-10, and lost to Sebeka 5-4.

For the Section 8AA tournament, the Panthers received the No. 5 seed and had their season end with an 8-1 loss to No. 4 Hawley, which won the Section 6A title last year and returned to state by winning the Section 8AA title this year.

Of Park Rapids' 14 opponents, nine finished the season with winning records. Pequot Lakes was ranked No. 9 in the state before losing for the first time with a 1-0 loss to Staples-Motley in the second round of the Section 8AA playoffs to end the year at 21-1. Sebeka was rated No. 17 in the state Class A poll and qualified for state, finishing the season at 21-6.

"Despite our 12-9 record, we met only two of goals we set for ourselves. In setting our goals, we talked about how it can be hard setting high expectations and not meeting them. But we also agreed it would be better to set them high and not meet them than not to challenge ourselves in the first place," said Park Rapids head coach Marion Goeden. "In some ways this season was frustrating because we started so strong, but I don't feel we reached our full potential. On the other hand, I enjoyed coaching this team."

For the season, the Panthers finished with a .334 batting average, which was fourth in school history behind last year's .389 mark, a .352 average in 2008 and a .338 average in 2005. Park Rapids averaged 7.4 runs a game while allowing 6.9 runs a game. The Panthers finished with a 4.46 team ERA. Of the 146 runs allowed, only 80 were earned as the Panthers committed 75 errors.

Leading the Panthers this season were seniors Lexi Burlingame, Erika Jerger, Katie Just and Olivia Vaadeland; juniors Katelyn Hilmanowski, Caitlan Isaacson and Ashley Thelen; sophomores Nakkita Buckanaga, Shania Johnson and Lauren Naeve; and freshman Jessie O'Hern.

Of that group, Burlingame and Vaadeland received Section 8AA honors and were joined by Jerger as all-conference players. Johnson and Naeve received all-conference honorable mention honors.

Vaadeland moved from first base to pitcher and went 11-9 with a 4.59 ERA. In 20 starts, Vaadeland allowed 142 runs (76 earned runs) on 156 hits with 68 walks and 99 strikeouts in 116 innings. Offensively, Vaadeland batted .387 (24 for 62, including three doubles, two triples and two home runs) with 16 runs and 19 RBI in 21 games. In three varsity seasons, Vaadeland hit .378 (86 for 227) with 55 runs and 67 RBI and went 16-9 with a 4.56 ERA and 178 strikeouts, which rank fifth in school history. Vaadeland received the team's Coaches Award.

Burlingame played 21 games at first base and batted .362 (25 for 69, including a team-leading 11 doubles and two homers) while leading the team with 23 runs and 20 RBI. Burlingame, who also stole six bases, finished her career by batting .354 with 33 runs and 25 RBI in two varsity seasons.

Jerger played mostly right field in 21 games and hit .385 (25 for 65, including six doubles, one triple and one home run) with 17 runs, 14 RBI and four stolen bases. Jerger also played two varsity seasons and finished with a .361 batting average, 31 runs and 23 RBI. Jerger received the team's Most Spirited Award and earned all-state academic honors.

Just also played in all 21 games and hit .255 (12 for 47, including one double, one triple and two home runs) with 12 runs, six RBI and five stolen bases. Just, who started in left field, ended her two-year varsity career with a .300 batting average 24 runs and 31 RBI. Just also earned all-state academic honors.

Hilmanowski was primarily a designated hitter who batted .240 (12 for 50) with five runs and six RBI in 21 games.

Isaacson started 21 games at shortstop and second base and batted .294 (10 for 34) with 14 runs, six RBI and a team-leading eight stolen bases.

Thelen started 17 games at third base and batted .305 (18 for 59, including two doubles, one triple and one homer) with 19 runs, eight RBI and four stolen bases.

Naeve returned as the starting catcher and hit .342 (25 for 73, including four doubles) with 22 runs, 13 RBI and five stolen bases in 21 games. Naeve earned the team's Golden Glove honor.

Johnson took over the starting spot in center field and led the Panthers with a .408 batting average (20 for 49, including four doubles and two triples). In 21 games, Johnson scored 10 runs and had 13 RBI. Johnson was named the Panthers' Most Improved Player and received the team's Hitter's Award.

Buckanaga started 21 games at second base and shortstop and hit .344 (21 for 61) with 11 runs, 12 RBI and seven stolen bases. Buckanaga also went 1-0 in five pitching appearances, allowing five hits and four earned runs in 9 2/3 innings

O'Hern scored six runs and played in 12 games mostly as a courtesy runner.

"Our seniors played a huge role in our 12 wins this season. Besides playing key roles in the field and in the hitting lineup, their leadership was selfless and showed a maturity that was an encouragement to me and the program," said Goeden. "We will reload for next year. We had players gain valuable experience this season. Our junior varsity team was very young this season but had a great year. We will need their help. The teams that play in the section championship game don't get there by showing up to the first day of practice. They work at their game in the off-season. I am hoping to make another run at the conference title and to get noticed in the section. In order to fulfill those expectations, our players will need to do more than show up on the first day."