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State baseball: Early offense, Arnold's gem carry Panthers into Class A semis

Parkers Prairie senior Levi Arnold cracks a smile between innings on Thursday at the Class A state tournament in Jordan. Arnold struck out 13 and allowed just two hits in a complete-game performance for the Panthers. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)1 / 4
Levi Arnold follows through on his release with catcher Andrew Johnson waiting behind the plate during the third inning of Thursday's 8-0 win over Pillager in Jordan. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)2 / 4
Parkers Prairie senior Devin Glebe waits for a ball in center field before making the catch at the state tournament in Jordan on Thursday. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)3 / 4
Parkers Prairie sophomore Travis Yohnke holds the ball up after making the tag on a pick off of a runner at first to end the game on Thursday against Pillager. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)4 / 4

The Parkers Prairie baseball team looked like a group that has been on the big stage of the Class A state tournament on Thursday.

Wins aren’t supposed to come so easy at this time of year, but the top-seeded Panthers made it look easy in an 8-0 win over Pillager to advance to Friday’s state semifinals.

“We’ve been here before,” senior center fielder Devin Glebe said. “We know we just have to be patient at the plate and make him throw pitches. That’s what we did, and it worked.”

The Panthers put up four runs in the first inning, and that was plenty of support for Levi Arnold. The senior righthander dominated the Huskies with a complete-game two-hitter.

Pillager finally put two runners on against him in the seventh with a hit and a walk. A snap throw from catcher Andrew Johnson to Travis Yohnke caught the runner too far off of first base for the final out of the game.

“Fastball,” Arnold said of the key to his outing. “They weren’t touching it. They were really far behind, so I just stuck with the fastball.”

The Panthers played error-free ball behind him, but Arnold didn’t make his defense work too hard. He struck out 13 batters by overpowering the Huskies (15-11). Rarely did he shake off Johnson as the two got into a groove and coasted through fast innings.

“Andrew knows me, and I know him,” Arnold said. “We work well together. I can work quick with Andrew behind the plate.”

The first Pillager hit didn’t come until the fifth inning when Braeden Wangsness lofted a bloop single into the left-field grass. That broke up the no-hitter and was all the Huskies could get before adding one more soft single to center in the seventh.

“I thought about it the whole way,” Arnold said of going after the no-hitter. “I knew after five it was going to get tough. I was starting to slow down.”

Arnold settled for the complete-game win to move his record to 11-0 on the season. He’s been consistent all spring, and so has this Parkers Prairie offense.

The Panthers never let Pillager believe it could pull off the upset after jumping out to a 6-0 lead through two innings. Zach Gappa and Hunter McDaniel both had two RBIs, with McDaniel’s two-run double in the fourth inning making it an 8-0 game. Johnson, Travis Yohnke and Matt Ferley all added two hits apiece.

“I’m very happy with how the boys came out,” head coach Derek Denny said. “They looked sharp yesterday at practice, and that continued here today.”

Denny believes having been here a year ago is helpful for Parkers Prairie this time around.

The Panthers came within an out of a state title in 2016. That experience of playing in a state championship was something this whole group brought with them into Thursday.

“We think experience does matter, especially when we got down here yesterday,” Denny said. “Being here and knowing how things go, I was really impressed with how they handled themselves for an hour-long practice. They looked sharp, and that showed today on the field.”

Players said it was also nice to open against a team they were familiar with. Both Parkers Prairie and Pillager play in the Park Region Conference, so they had already met twice this season, games that the Panthers won 8-3 and 5-0.

“We’d seen that pitcher, and we knew the catcher didn’t have the strongest arm behind the plate,” Glebe said. “We knew that was going to be a factor in the game, and we made sure to take advantage of it.”

The Panthers have built up a 24-2 record this season by taking a one-game-at-a-time approach. That won’t change with this team now one game away from its goal of getting back to Target Field for a Class A championship appearance.

“Obviously, we know where we want to finish the season at, but you can’t look past your next opponent,” Denny said. “I would anticipate another good game tomorrow.”

The Panthers will face fourth-seeded Red Rock Central-Westbrook-Walnut Grove at noon back at the Mini Met in Jordan on Friday. The Falcons are 23-3 after beating Fosston in their quarterfinal game.

“These next games are definitely going to be the hardest games we’ve played all year,” Arnold said. “We’ve been hitting the ball good lately. I believe we can pull through.”

PILLAGER 000 000 0 – 0 2 3

PARKERS PRAIRIE     420 200 X – 8 10 0

PITCHING – Parkers Prairie – Levi Arnold – W, 7IP, 2H, 0R, 3BB, 13SO; Pillager – Joshua Doss – L, 6IP, 10H, 8R, 8ER, 5BB, 6SO

PARKERS PRAIRIE OFFENSE – Devin Glebe – 1-2, 1 run, RBI; Arnold – 0-2, 1 run; Cody Springer – 0-1; Andrew Johnson – 2-3, HBP, 2B, 2 runs, RBI; Travis Yohnke – 2-4, 2B, 1 run; Casey Peterson – 1-2, 1 run, RBI; Matt Ferley – 2-4, 1 run, RBI; Zach Gappa – 1-4, 2 RBI; Hunter McDaniel – 1-4, 2B, 2 RBI; Harry Samuelson – 0-2, 1 run

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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