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St. Croix Central softball gets in first game of season

The first game for the St. Croix Central softball team under new varsity coach Mindy Rudiger proved to be a challenge.

The Panthers opened their season on April 8 at Pepin, where they faced a Pepin-Alma team that went 18-4 last season. The Panthers discovered that Pepin-Alma is just as lethal this season, with the Panthers suffering a 22-0 defeat. This is the only Dunn-St. Croix Conference game that has been played by any teams through the beginning of this week.

The Panthers return three starters from last season. Seniors Kelly Harrington and Kalli Armagost form the battery, with Harrington pitching for the second season and Armagost playing behind the plate for her third year. Senior Kali Lawrence is the other returning starter, reprising her role as the team's centerfielder.

The only other player on the roster with varsity experience is Emily Elsenpeter, who takes over at third base.

The game at Pepin was a big task for the Panthers, because they hadn't stepped onto a ballfield until this contest. They'd only practiced on pavement outdoors a few times.

The Panthers were competitive early in the game, limiting Pepin-Alma to two runs in each of the first two innings. Pepin-Alma broke the game open with a nine-run explosion in the third inning.

Central was held to one hit in the game, with Harrington picking up the hit.

Rudiger said the game was badly needed so her team could begin to measure its progress.

"It was an eye opener on what we need to do to be a top contender," she said of facing Pepin-Alma. "They're the top team in our conference, a very well-rounded squad."

With the weather limiting what can be done in practices, the Panther coaches have been teaching different mental approaches to help further the players' knowledge of the game. Rudiger said the players have shown admirable patience despite being stuck indoors for most of their practices.

The next games scheduled for the Panthers are this Saturday, when they have home games planned against Somerset at 9 a.m. and Ellsworth at 11 a.m. Those games are important because both teams are in Central's WIAA Division 2 regional tournament bracket and teams are desperate to play possible tournament opponents to help make the tournament seeding a more clear-cut issue.