Developing new starters will be key to Panthers' success
The Park Rapids fastpitch softball team has to fill five starting spots in quest to return to Section 8AA title game.
Marion Goeden was looking forward to the Park Rapids fastpitch softball team contending for the Section 8AA title last season.
The COVID pandemic denied the Panthers that chance when the fastpitch softball season was canceled.
Accomplishing that goal this season will be a challenge as the Panthers return only four players with varsity experience and didn’t have all last year or this spring for developing players to take over key roles.
“We are young and untested. We are understandably behind the level of play we are usually at in this part of the season. Most seasons we have four weeks or more to prepare for our first game. This season we have eight practices to prepare for our opener,” said Goeden, who will be assisted by Ken Tretbar, Ken Bynum and Kevin Cederstrom. “We’ve had to multitask to prep for the opener. I anticipate this season will be fast and furious and we coaches will need to divide and conquer to be ready. But I feel blessed to be back on the field and look forward to the fun and challenges this season will bring.”
Being counted on to lead the Panthers this season are seniors Shailyn Pachel, Cassidy Bera and Ellie Ulvin, and junior Abby Morris. Those four return as starters after helping the Panthers to a 10-0 record in Mid-State Conference play, a 24-3 overall mark to set a school record for wins in a season and a spot in the section championship game in 2019.
Pachel will take over at catcher this season after receiving all-conference honorable mention honors by hitting .357 (30 for 84, including eight doubles) with 31 runs scored, 16 RBI and 11 steals two years ago. Morris was another all-conference honorable mention player who batted .349 (29 for 83, including six doubles and one homer) with 26 runs, 19 RBI and 13 steals. Morris will move from second base to shortstop or third base. Ulvin scored 15 runs, drove in nine runs and hit .167 (8 for 51) with three stolen bases and will start in centerfield. Bera will return to the outfield after batting .050 (1 for 20) and scoring three runs with three RBI and a stolen base.
The other players who saw some varsity time in 2019 are senior Amber Berndt and junior Allison Offerdahl. Berndt went 0 for 1 with three runs scored and one stolen base and Offerdahl scored three runs, had one RBI and stole a base while going 0-1 with a 2.60 ERA in 9 innings on the mound. Offerdahl gave up seven hits and five walks while striking out seven and allowed seven runs (three earned). Berndt will compete for a job in the outfield while Offerdahl will provide depth in the infield when not pitching.
Sophomores Mickey Clark (second base, outfield), Chloe Tretbar (pitcher, first base) and Tori Weaver (third base or shortstop) are also being counted on to fill starting spots. Others competing for starting spots and providing depth are juniors Rachael Herman and Natalie Harvey, and sophomore Avery Cederstrom.
Starting the season on the junior varsity are sophomores Hailey Kimball, Massie Lee, Kiza Nelmark and Josie Thompson-Pegueros; and freshmen Amelia Bagstad, Ella Burlingame, Abby Felts, Kasen Girtz, Natalie Kruchowski, Kilea Persons, Ali Roberts and Gabi Shepersky.
While Goeden is not sure what to expect from the other teams in the conference and section, the Park Rapids head coach expects her team to improve, be competitive and peak for the section playoffs.
“It feels great to be back on the field. Our spirits are high,” said Goeden. “I don’t know where other programs are at right now due to not playing last year. I don’t have last year’s experiences to fall back on. I think the conference will be wide open as to who takes it this year. There were teams in our section who played in a competitive summer league in North Dakota all last summer. I anticipate they might be a step ahead of other programs. I expect my team to gain a lot over the season in knowledge and confidence. I expect us to compete with the strong majority of the teams on our schedule. I believe that to be one of the teams in the section finals, we are going to have to work hard this season. We will need to work through some adversity to get where we want to be.”