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Panthers leave legacy with 19-7 season

Alyssa Carlson led the Park Rapids fastpitch softball team with 14 stolen bases while batting .465 with 34 runs scored and 23 RBI.1 / 3
Anna Grimes received Section 8AA and Mid-State Conference honors after leading the Panthers with a .489 batting average.2 / 3
Ashley Domino received Section 8AA and Mid-State Conference honors after batting .476 and leading the Panthers with 50 hits and 39 runs.3 / 3

Marion Goeden challenged this year's Park Rapids fastpitch softball team to leave a legacy for future teams to follow.

That's exactly what the Panthers did.

Despite having only two players returning to their starting positions and two other players who had started games, the Panthers made history by tying the school record for wins in a season and playing for the section title for only the fourth time in school history.

The Panthers ended the season with a 19-7 record, tying the record for most wins in a season set by the 2003 team that went 19-4. This year's team also became the fourth team to reach the section championship game, joining the 2000 team that won the section title and advanced to state and the 2003 and 2005 teams that finished second.

In addition, the Panthers shattered school records for team batting average (.389) and runs scored (261). The old records were a .352 team batting average in 2008 and 240 runs scored in 2005. Having the pitching rubber moved from 40 feet back to 43 feet helped the Panthers break those records. Park Rapids also broke the school record for double plays in a season with 12, topping the old mark of 11 set in 2007. The Panthers also received a state Gold Academic Award for having a team GPA of 3.75 or higher.

The Panthers ended the season with a 9-3 record in Mid-State Conference play to finish second for the fourth year in a row. Detroit Lakes won the conference title with a 10-2 mark. Park Rapids advanced to the Section 8AA championship game only to lose to Fergus Falls. In 26 games, the Panthers had at least 10 hits 20 times and scored at least 10 runs 12 times.

All things considered, it was an overachieving season for the Panthers.

"I go into each season believing we will do well and I set my expectations high. I didn't see anyone on our schedule that I felt we couldn't beat," said Goeden, whose team averaged 10 runs per game while allowing 6.1 runs a game. "There was some uncertainty when we worked through our goal-setting process in the pre-season. Early in the season I let the younger players know my feelings. I told them that being young is not an excuse to not play at a high level. I told them that if you weren't good enough to play at this level, you would have been on the (junior varsity) field next to us. I was very pleased with the season, but not totally surprised."

The season got off to a sour note when the Panthers carried a 16-11 lead into the seventh inning only to lose to Staples-Motley 17-16. Park Rapids rebounded to win the second game 6-4.

Park Rapids trailed Menahga 10-3 before rallying for an 11-10 win in eight innings before scoring 35 runs in defeating Crosby-Ironton 15-0 and 20-3.

Wadena-Deer Creek rallied for an 11-7 win before the Panthers earned a split with a 15-1 win in five innings in the second game. Park Rapids then played its worst game of the season as 10 errors helped Sebeka post a 13-3 win in five innings.

The Panthers gave up another late lead as Detroit Lakes scored five times in the seventh inning for an 8-7 victory. Park Rapids rebounded to win the second game 10-9.

That victory started a six-game winning streak as the Panthers scored seven times in the seventh inning to rally for a 9-4 win over Bagley and scored six runs in the 10th inning for a 9-3 win over Perham. Park Rapids dominated the next three games with a 12-1 win over Perham and a pair of wins over Pelican Rapids by scores of 21-3 and 13-5.

Thief River Falls scored four times in the seventh inning to rally for a 7-6 win before the Panthers regrouped to earn a split with a 6-4 win in the second game.

Park Rapids closed out the regular season by sweeping Pequot Lakes by scores of 9-7 and 8-5 and avenging the loss to Sebeka with a 7-4 victory.

A 15-5 record gave the Panthers the No. 3 seed for the North Section 8AA tournament. The Panthers edged No. 6 Warroad 7-6 before shutting out No. 2 Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 10-0 and defeating No. 1 Detroit Lakes 5-3.

After a 16-10 loss to Fergus Falls (the No. 3 seed from the South) in the double-elimination part of the tournament, the Panthers eliminated Wadena-Deer Creek (the No. 5 seed from the South) 14-8 before falling to Fergus Falls 7-5 in the championship game. Fergus Falls qualified for state for the first time.

"I felt we could challenge for the conference and section. For the fourth year in a row, a single game or one inning has kept us from winning the conference. That has been frustrating for me," said Goeden. "Over the years there have been many times where we had the potential to be in the section championship, but maybe team dynamics or just plain lack of execution kept us from it. The solidarity of this team, the leadership from our captains and the mental preparation we worked on helped us get there this season. You hear countless quotes thrown around about teamwork, but rarely is a team able to truly achieve the cohesiveness this group had. Players accepting their role on the team and supporting each other in that role got us 19 victories."

Providing the leadership for the Panthers were the four returning veterans: seniors Alyssa Carlson, Ashley Domino and Anna Grimes and junior Olivia Vaadeland.

Stepping up to fill the other starting spots were juniors Bonnie Baumgartner, Lexi Burlingame Katie Just and Erika Jerger; sophomores Caitlan Isaacson and Ashley Thelen; and freshmen Bailee Jerger, Lauren Naeve and McKenna Brand.

Carlson, the Panthers' starting shortstop for the last three years, batted lead-off and hit .465 (40 for 86) with 34 runs, 23 RBI and a team-leading 26 walks and 14 stolen bases in 26 games. Carlson, who had at least one hit in 24 games, also led the team with 52 assists. In four varsity seasons, Carlson hit .380 (87 for 229) with 93 runs, 55 RBI, 42 stolen bases and eight sacrifices while tallying 122 assists. Carlson ranks second in school history in runs scored, fourth in sacrifices, and fifth in hits and assists. Carlson also earned all-conference, all-section and all-state academic honors.

Domino, who moved from right field and center field, batted .476 (50 for 105) with 39 runs, 35 RBI, seven stolen bases, 10 doubles, two triples and one home run in 26 games. Domino had at least one hit in 24 games and broke the school record for hits in a season with 50. Kristen Harsha held the old record with 40. Domino received the team's Hitter's Award and Coaches Award and was an all-conference and all-section selection.

Grimes also played in all 26 games as a designated player and outfielder and led the Panthers with a .489 batting average (45 for 92). Grimes also had 18 RBI, 17 walks and 10 stolen bases. Grimes (who hit safely in the first 25 games of the season) shattered the school record for singles in a season with 45, breaking Heather Tretbar's old mark of 31. Grimes scored 77 runs and had 30 stolen bases in her varsity career. Grimes also received all-conference, all-section and all-state academic honors and received the team's Most Spirited Award.

Those three senior captains combined to hit .477 with 135 hits, 110 runs scored, 76 RBI and 31 stolen bases.

"Our three seniors had so very much to do with the season we had. Their leadership made our team into what it was. All three are examples of what coaches look for in our top athletes by way of mentoring other players, execution on the field and believing in the plan," said Goeden. "Defensively, Alyssa and Ashley led the heart of the field, which is such an important part of the game. Anna frustrated the opponent by how tough it was to get her out due to her quickness. Though they made up one quarter of our team by number, their contributions were far beyond one quarter."

Vaadeland returned as the starter at first base when not pitching and hit .398 (33 for 83) with 18 runs, 12 doubles, 25 RBI and five stolen bases. Vaadeland had at least one hit in 19 of the 22 games she played. On the mound, Vaadeland went 3-0 with one save and a 4.83 ERA. Vaadeland started six of the 11 games she pitched and allowed 50 runs (29 earned) on 56 hits and 33 walks with 47 strikeouts in 42 innings. Vaadeland earned all-conference honorable mention honors.

Bailee Jerger made an immediate impact in her varsity debut by batting .448 (39 for 87) with 32 runs, 13 doubles, three triples, five stolen bases and a team-leading 38 RBI, which tied Leeza Tostenson's school record. Jerger had at least one hit in 21 of the 24 games she played. Jerger also led the pitching staff by going 15-6 with a 3.94 ERA in 23 games, 18 as a starter. In 122 2/3 innings, Jerger allowed 69 earned runs (98 total runs) on 129 hits and 89 walks while striking out 90. Jerger tied the school record with five hits in a game and two triples in a game and earned all-section honors and all-conference honorable mention honors.

Naeve earned the starting spot at catcher and hit .354 (29 for 82) with 18 runs, 16 RBI and six stolen bases in 26 games. Naeve received the team's Golden Glove award.

Just played in 22 games in the outfield and batted .339 (19 for 56) with 12 runs and 12 RBI.

Burlingame played in 19 games at first base and as a designated player and hit .333 (9 for 27) with 10 runs and five RBI.

Isaacson started 26 games at second base and batted .328 (20 for 61) with 16 runs, 13 RBI, 20 walks and nine stolen bases.

Erika Jerger played 21 games in the outfield and hit .326 (14 for 43) with 14 runs, nine RBI and five stolen bases.

Brand played 20 games at third base and in the outfield and hit .257 (9 for 35) with six runs and nine RBI. Brand received the team's Most Improved Player award.

Thelen played in 25 games at third base and the outfield and hit .254 (18 for 71) with 20 runs, 16 RBI and six stolen bases.

Baumgartner was a courtesy runner in nine games and scored five runs.

Looking ahead to next season, Goeden is counting on the Panthers to once again put a competitive team out on the field.

"Part of coaching is losing players you wish you still had," said Goeden. "I am not sure what I will have for players next year. No matter who the 2012 team ends up to be, I can be quite certain in saying that I will expect a high level of play. We return some key positions and had a very successful season on all levels. I am already planning for next year. I can hardly wait."