Panthers look to develop into conference, section contenders

Despite having six key players to replace, Marion Goeden is counting on the Park Rapids fastpitch softball team to produce a winning record for the ninth year in a row and make a run at contending for the Mid-State Conference and Section 8AA titles.

     Despite having six key players to replace, Marion Goeden is counting on the Park Rapids fastpitch softball team to produce a winning record for the ninth year in a row and make a run at contending for the Mid-State Conference and Section 8AA titles.

     Leading the Panthers to a 16-8 record last season were the six seniors: Lauren Naeve, Bailee Jerger, Shania Johnson, Charity Ridlon, Morgan Dean and Christina Smith.

     Naeve was the Panthers’ starting catcher for four seasons and ended her career with a school-record 567 putouts while tying the school record by throwing out 27 runners trying to steal, finishing second in hits with 107, walks with 63 and at bats with 296, and ranking third in school history with 92 runs scored. Jerger concluded her career as one of the Panthers’ top pitchers, ranking second in career wins with 39 and career strikeouts with 314 while tying the school record with 83 career RBI. Both were Section 8AA and Mid-State Conference players while Johnson and Ridlon received all-conference honorable mention honors.

     Offensively, Naeve led the Panthers with a .402 batting average with 35 runs and 24 RBI. Ridlon was third on the team with a .385 average with 23 runs and 25 RBI. Johnson batted .373 with 23 runs and 19 RBI. Jerger hit .366 with 22 runs and 28 RBI. Smith hit .250 and Dean batted .216 with 11 runs and 15 RBI.

     Defensively, Jerger went 14-8 with two saves and a 1.94 ERA in 119 innings while Dean went 2-0 with one save and a 4.20 ERA in 20 innings. Ridlon played first base, Johnson started three seasons in the outfield, Dean served as a designated hitter and Smith was a reserve outfielder.


     The Panthers do return five players who played varsity last season. That group – seniors Nicole Eischens, Hope Johnson and Sarena Kinkel; sophomore Brooke Jerger; and freshman Tara Johanning – will be counted on to lead the Panthers this spring.

     Jerger led the team with 38 runs and 14 stolen bases while finishing second with a .397 batting average (31 hits in 78 at bats). Jerger had 16 RBI in 24 games at second base and pitched 2 2/3 innings, allowing three earned runs.

     Eischens hit .316 (18 for 57) with 17 runs, 13 RBI and eight stolen bases in 21 games as the starter in center field.

     Hope Johnson started 22 games at third base and batted .258 (17 for 66) with 19 runs, 13 RBI and three stolen bases.

     Kinkel started 24 games in the outfield and batted .237 (14 for 59) with 14 runs, seven stolen bases and three RBI.

     Johanning hit .194 (6 for 31) with nine runs, seven RBI and five stolen bases in 24 games as the starting shortstop.

     Also seeing some varsity playing time last season were juniors Carly Waggoner and Sydney Bynum and sophomore Macky Warne.

     Looking to fill starting spots and providing depth will be seniors Kendra Anderson, Lindsey Girtz and Hannah Hensel; junior Caitlin Brumbaugh; and freshman Lexi Hinkley-Smith.


     Jerger and Warne will handle the majority of the pitching duties with Johanning, Bynum and Hinkley-Smith competing for the starting job behind the plate. Competing for starting infield spots are Jerger, Bynum and Hensel at first base; Warne, Jerger and Brumbaugh at second base; Johnson, Waggoner and Johanning at shortstop and third base; Eischens, Kinkel, Hinkley-Smith, Girtz, Hensel and Brumbaugh in the outfield; and Anderson at designated hitter.

     Starting the season on junior varsity will be seniors Bradlynn Daily and Lindy Schmid; junior Kellsey  Clark; sophomores Isabel Bagstad, Lizzie Bannerman, Lexi Feldt, Taylor Harvey, Mikayla Hensel, Chelsea Swenson and Trinah Szafranski; and freshmen Kortne Byer, Hannah DeWinter, Taylor Hilmanowski, Lizzie Hensel, Gracie Kisner, Paige Poehler, Abby Smith and Brianna Weckwerth.

     “We need to prove ourselves at the plate. Lauren, Bailee, Charity and Shania were out first four hitters in the line-up (last season). We’ll need to score more runs than we did last season as we don’t have the power we did last year. We’ll look to use the short game more often,” said Goeden, who begins her 25th year as the Panthers’ head coach. “Our outfield should be strong and we’ll be quick on the bases. We need to prove ourselves yet as to the maturity of our battery as we are untested. Neither our pitchers nor catchers have varsity experience in their positions.”

     Pequot Lakes went 12-0 to win the Mid-State Conference title last season while Staples-Motley was second at 10-2 and the Panthers tied Detroit Lakes for third place at 7-5. Hawley defeated Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton for the Section 8AA title and finished fourth at the state Class AA tournament. Thief River Falls and Fergus Falls were the No. 1 seeds entering the section tournament.

     While those teams should once again be among the favorites, Goeden is hoping the Panthers will develop into conference and section contenders again this spring.

     “We know other teams work hard like we do and we know most of our opponents probably have the strong team unity that this group has begun to develop. What we expect will set us apart is the ability for us to know what our role is on the team and engage in that to the best of our ability. We hope to be that team that rises above because we play for each other,” said Goeden, who will be assisted by Ken Tretbar and Aarin Galzki. “We feel the experience of our coaching staff will help our cause and the leadership of this group of players should set us apart.  My expectations will be that we will battle for some of the top spots in our conference and section.”

1982 Dawson-Boyd High School graduate
1987 Moorhead State University graduate
Sports reporter for Park Rapids Enterprise since 1987
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