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St. Croix Central softball team sees positives in final week

St. Croix Central’s Abby Harrington pitched the complete game in the Panthers’ playoff loss at New Richmond last Thursday. 1 / 2
St. Croix Central’s Marissa Arthur ripped this pitch for a first inning double at New Richmond last Thursday. 2 / 2

The St. Croix Central softball team didn’t go down without a fight in its WIAA Division 2 playoff opener at New Richmond last Thursday.

The Panthers didn’t look like a team that carried a 1-18 record into the game when they trailed 2-1 heading into the home half of the fourth inning. New Richmond was able to score nine times in the next two innings to defeat the Panthers 12-2, ending Central’s softball season.

To make matters worse for the Panthers Thursday, they had to play the game without their only senior. Starting shortstop Nicole Nogal had a throw hit the tip of her ring finger in practice on Wednesday. When Nogal saw a doctor on Thursday, it was discovered that the finger was broken. The team carried on, moving Katie Kolakowski to shortstop.

New Richmond scored once in the first inning, but the Panthers came back to tie the score in the top of the third inning. Abby Harrington and Jami Ruvelson led off the third with singles and Harrington scored on Ana Erickson’s groundout. There were clear looks of surprise among the New Richmond faithful, who weren’t expecting the Panthers to put up a battle.

New Richmond had its big inning in the fourth, scoring seven runs. Still, the Panthers didn’t give up. Ruvelson hustled all the way to third base on an error. Moments later, a pitch scooted a few feet away from the New Richmond catcher. Ruvelson reacted immediately and was able to score on the wild pitch.

Central coach Mindy Rudiger said that’s the sort of enthusiasm Ruvelson has brought to the team.

“She’s been a great leader all year. As a sophomore, that’s great to see,” Rudiger said.

The Panthers had three hits in the game. One was a double to the centerfield fence by catcher Marissa Arthur with two outs in the first inning. Arthur’s hitting has been a revelation for the team. She finished the season with a .509 batting average.

The playoff game was a coaching matchup between close friends. Rudiger and New Richmond coach Emily Dabrowski were teammates on the UW-River Falls women’s softball team. Dabrowski served as an assistant coach for Rudiger and the Panthers last season.

In their regular season finale, the Panthers gave another indication of their improvement, losing to Elmwood-Plum City 7-5. E-PC finished with a 9-6 record in the Dunn-St. Croix Conference while the Panthers finished at 1-14.

One of the main reasons the Panthers were competitive in this game was the improved control in Harrington’s pitching. She issued just two walks in this game.

Another key factor was Arthur’s hitting. She went 3-4 at the plate, driving home four runs. She made the game close at the end by hitting a two-run homer in the seventh inning.

Rudiger said the Panthers made considerable improvement over the course of the season. With one senior on this year’s team, Central will return an extremely experienced lineup in 2015. Rudiger said the team needs to be better prepared for next season to fulfill the team’s potential.

“The success next year is in the palms of their hands,” Rudiger said. “We have a scariness of the weight room, which a lot of the females at Central have yet.”

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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