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St. Croix Central softball sweeps Mondovi, Spring Valley

St. Croix Central's Emily Elsenpeter is greeted at home plate after she homered in the second inning of the Panthers' 3-2 win in the opening game against Mondovi on Friday.

Sweeps against Dunn-St. Croix Conference opponents Spring Valley and Mondovi has helped the St. Croix Central softball team move up to the middle of the pack in the D-SC standings.

The Panthers went from the bottom of the conference to the middle of the pack by winning five of six games they played in an incredibly demanding weekend. The Panthers swept a double-header at home on Friday against Mondovi, 3-2 and 10-4.

That led into a two-stop road trip in a wintry mix of weather on Saturday.

The first stop on the trip was Spring Valley. The Panthers fought off snow, hail and the Cardinals to win 5-3 and 10-9.

The Panthers then had to play two more games Saturday at Elmwood. The exhaustion of the week caught up with the Panthers in the opening game, which Elmwood won 10-9. After that game, Central coach Mindy Rudiger asked her players to dig deep within themselves to come up with the energy for one more big effort. The Panthers found just enough, edging Elmwood 6-5 for Central's fifth win of the weekend.

The wins lift the Panthers to the .500 level in the D-SC with a 6-6 record.

The common theme for the Panthers' play was power provided by the team's seniors. The seniors suddenly began knocking balls over the fence like they were hitting golf balls. The Panthers hit eight homers in the six weekend games.

Emily Elsenpeter started the homer parade. She homered over the leftfield fence in the second inning of the Panthers' opening 3-2 win on Friday. In the second game, Elsenpeter homered again, but this time she wasn't alone. Classmates Kalli Armagost and Kelly Harrington also flexed their muscles. Harrington and Elsenpeter hit back-to-back homers for Central's first two runs in the second inning. Armagost homered as part of a seven-run rally in the third inning and she added a solo homer in the fourth inning.

Harrington pitched both wins against Mondovi.

The Panthers notched three more homers in the opening win at Spring Valley, with another senior joining in the home run act. Armagost hit two more homers and Kali Lawrence hit her first career homer in the win.

There weren't any homers in the second game at Spring Valley, but the Panthers needed every bit of offense they could manage for the 10-9 win. Spring Valley scored seven times in the first two innings, but the Panthers fought back to get the win.

It took a five-run fourth inning for the Panthers to get the lead. A single from Harrington and a double from Elsenpeter were the big hits of that rally.

In the opening game at Elmwood, the Panthers were shut down by Elmwood pitching ace McKayla Brunner, who threw a two-hitter. The Panthers made sure Brunner didn't have it so easy in the second game.

The Panthers scored twice in the first inning, off singles from Ella Scott and Marissa Arthur and a double from Armagost. The Panthers took the lead for good with a four-run third inning. Scott, Lawrence and Arthur filled the bases on walks. Katie Kolakowski's single got the first run home, with a double from Elsenpeter and a single from Lacy Sundberg bringing home the final two runs.

Rudiger said the Panthers aren't just hitting the ball hard, they are producing in clutch situations. She said the team has really worked to understand the hitting basics the coaches are teaching.

"We're focusing on hitting through the middle of the ball. We really simplified our mechanics," Rudiger said.

The shortened softball regular season is now complete. The Panthers begin WIAA tournaments this Thursday when they play at Osceola. Central is the seventh seed in the Division 2 regional bracket and Osceola is the second seed.