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State baseball: Panthers get their second chance at a title

The Parkers Prairie baseball team gathers at home plate to celebrate a home run from Andrew Johnson (14) that made it an 8-3 game in the Class A semifinals in Jordan on Friday. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)1 / 3
Parkers Prairie senior Andrew Johnson throws in the first inning of Friday's state semifinal game. Johnson got the win by going all seven innings. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)2 / 3
Travis Yohnke (20) gets congratulated by teammate Matt Ferley after scoring a run in Friday's state semifinal game in Jordan. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)3 / 3

The Parkers Prairie baseball team thought all year about coming so close to winning a state championship in 2016. That drove them all spring. Now the Panthers will get their chance to go back and avenge that loss.

Parkers Prairie won an 8-3 game over a hot-hitting Red Rock Central team on Friday in Jordan by doing what they often do. The Panthers got good pitching, timely hitting and didn’t commit an error on their way to securing their spot at Target Field in the Class A title game at 10 a.m. Monday.

“It means everything,” senior second baseman Hunter McDaniel said. “We wanted to get back here again this year and go get it this time. Win it all.”

The Panthers trailed 2-0 after half an inning, but those early deficits have meant nothing in recent weeks. Parkers Prairie trailed early in both of the section championship games.

The Panthers answered right back with two runs of their own on Friday. Andrew Johnson had an RBI double in the first inning and Casey Peterson drove in a run with a single that made it 2-2.

“We just have the attitude that it ain’t over till it’s over,” McDaniel said. “We keep playing hard and going all the way.”

Johnson was going to do what he could to make sure the Panthers didn’t lose this one, both on the mound and from the plate.

The senior added a run-scoring single in the second inning to give his team a 3-2 lead. Parkers Prairie had stretched its lead to 6-3 in the sixth when he hammered a two-run home run to left field that all but ended any hopes RRC had for a comeback. Johnson finished his day at the plate 3-for-4 with two runs and four RBIs.

“We just wanted to get back where we finished last year,” Johnson said. “I just wanted to help my team out the best I could. I knew today was going to be a big day, and I wanted to play Monday. That was key for me.”

On the mound, Johnson had to deal with a talented lineup. The Falcons (23-4) put up 11 runs in their quarterfinals win on Thursday and have hitters who Parkers Prairie head coach Derek Denny knew could present problems.

“They can hit,” Denny said. “We watched their hitters yesterday. We watched their tendencies, and I told Andrew and (catcher) Levi (Arnold) that every pitch has to be mixed. Change the eye level, mix your locations. I just thought they executed that game plan to a tee.”

Trevor Pederson did all the damage for the Falcons. He had two hits and drove in all three runs, but Johnson settled in after the third inning to put up four straight scoreless frames. He had just three strikeouts, but his defense made plays behind him. The outfield of Austin Koep, Devin Glebe and Harry Samuelson drew the praise of Denny after tracking down a lot of hard-hit balls.

“I felt great on the mound,” Johnson said. “Those first two runs were great runs by them. After that, I located my pitches better and I got the feeling for my off-speed. My defense played great behind me. They put the ball in play, but my defense will help me out every time.”

The Panthers have the luxury of having someone like Johnson ready to pitch in the number two spot in their rotation. Arnold tossed a two-hitter on Thursday. Parkers Prairie could then come back with a senior who has started a state championship game in his career.

“That’s huge, especially for a small school,” Denny said. “Levi has had an outstanding year. Andrew has shouldered the load a lot of times too, and Andrew is a gamer. That’s as much of a factor as anything. A big game like this, to come out against a good hitting team and hold them to four hits. The kid just wants the ball. The bigger the game, the better he seems to do. That showed on both sides of the ball today.”

The Panthers know they need to play a similar style game to the one they played on Thursday to finish the job with a championship. Parkers Prairie will get second-seeded Legacy Christian Academy (21-4) in the title game after the Lions beat Wabasha-Kellogg 7-5 in the semifinals.

The Panthers had a goal this season of winning a state title, and they preached taking it one game at at time to get there. They’re down to just one game left to make that goal a reality.

“It’s going to be great,” McDaniel said. “It’s going to be a good game, and hopefully we can get it done this time.”

RED ROCK CENTRAL     201 000 0 - 3 4 0

PARKERS PRAIRIE         211 022 X - 8 9 0

PITCHING - Parkers Prairie - Andrew Johnson - W, 7IP, 4H, 3R, 3ER, 2BB, 3SO; RRC - Mitchell Willhite - 1.2IP, 2H, 3R, 3ER, 4BB, 1SO; Skyler Reddemann - L, 4.1IP, 7H, 5R, 5ER, 2BB, 1SO

PARKERS PRAIRIE OFFENSE - Devin Glebe - 0-1, 3 BB, 3 runs; Levi Arnold - 0-2, BB; Johnson - 3-4, HR, 2B, 2 runs, 4 RBI; Travis Yohnke - 2-4, 1 run; Casey Peterson - 2-4, 1 run, 2 RBI; Matt Ferley - 0-1, 2 BB, 1 run; Zach Gappa - 0-3; Hunter McDaniel - 2-3, RBI; Harry Samuelson - 0-3

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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