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Mission accomplished: Parkers Prairie baseball gets its title a year later

The Parkers Prairie baseball team piles onto the infield at Target Field after winning the Class A state championship with a 6-3 victory over Legacy Christian Academy on June 19. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)1 / 6
Parkers Prairie senior Levi Arnold throws during the sixth inning at Target Field during the Class A state championship. Arnold went all seven innings to get the win on the mound. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)2 / 6
Parkers Prairie first baseman Travis Yohnke holds up his glove after catching the final out of a 6-3 win over Legacy Christian Academy in the state championship game on June 19. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)3 / 6
Parkers Prairie senior Andrew Johnson hugs head coach Derek Denny after the Panthers wrap up the state championship at Target Field on June 19. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)4 / 6
Parkers Prairie shortstop Casey Peterson tags out Legacy Christian Academy's Josh Peterrson on an attempted steal of second base during the Class A state championship at Target Field. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)5 / 6
The Panthers' dugout celebrates an RBI triple by sophomore Travis Yohnke that made it a 2-0 game in the third inning on Monday. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)6 / 6

The Parkers Prairie baseball team waited 364 days to finish a job that started on June 20, 2016.

Every championship game has a winner and a loser, but not every team suffers defeat like the Panthers did at Target Field a year ago. They were an out away from a storybook ending to a breakout season. Instead, Springfield rallied to tie it in the seventh and win 4-2 in the 11th.

Parkers Prairie knew the goal of winning the first state championship in program history wasn’t over. This team returned all but one player from that group.

Players and coaches set out to write a new ending to the story this spring. On Monday back at Target Field, the Panthers got their Class A title by beating Legacy Christian Academy 6-3.

“We knew we wanted to be back here,” senior Levi Arnold said. “We knew we wanted to be in the spot we’re at right now. That’s what we were striving for.”

It was Arnold who threw a complete-game gem to help deliver the championship.

The Panthers took the field for the bottom of the seventh with a three-run lead as players and coaches in the dugout jumped to the top of the railing. Fans came to life in the stands. They could sense it. This one wasn’t going to get away.

Arnold got two quick fly outs that right fielder Austin Koep put away. Then with Lions’ third hitter Ethan Moochi at the plate, Arnold induced a pop up down the first-base line that sophomore Travis Yohnke tracked into foul territory.

“I knew the fence was coming up and there was one out left,” Yohnke said. “It was nerve wracking the whole way, but I just told myself to catch the ball. That’s all I had to do.”

Arnold knew it from the moment it left the bat. He raced toward first base and waited, throwing his hands in the air when Yohnke made the catch to set off a celebration that was a year in the making.

“I was watching Travis the whole way,” Arnold said. “I knew he was going to get there and catch it. It was awesome. It was just like in the movies where everything slows down.”

The Panthers didn’t leave much doubt against the Lions as they built a 6-0 lead through five innings. Hunter McDaniel started the scoring in the second with a bases-loaded walk, but Legacy Christian pitcher Josh Peterson struck out the side in the inning to avoid further damage.

Peterson finished with eight strikeouts in five innings, but the Panthers made him work in every inning after a 1-2-3 first. In the third, Yohnke got one of the first hard-hit balls against Peterson with an RBI triple to the wall in center field.

“The second time around is always a little better than the first,” Yohnke said. “You see what he’s got, what he’s throwing. I watched the first pitch that second at-bat. He threw that second one right down the middle, and I just swung. It hit the sweet spot on the bat, and it felt great.”

Yohnke, Casey Peterson and Matt Ferley all finished with two hits apiece.

A three-run fourth inning started with a double by Ferley and was aided by a throwing error from J. Peterson on a McDaniel bunt that scored two runs. Arnold added a run-scoring hit before the inning was over to make it 5-0.

Legacy Christian Academy rallied with all three of its runs in the bottom of the fifth, but it was the inning prior that proved to be vital to the outcome.

The Lions loaded the bases with nobody out on a single and two walks. Arnold got a fly out to second for the first out. He then got a ground ball back to the mound where he started a double play to Andrew Johnson at home and to Yohnke at first.

“I don’t get nervous,” Arnold said of getting out of the jam. “I knew we clearly have one of the best defenses in the state. All I have to do is pitch the ball. Try to get easy outs and help my team.”

That’s a job he’s done all season. Arnold finishes his senior year with a perfect record of 12-0 as he stepped up to help the Panthers produce one of the deepest pitching staffs in Class A.

“He was all that we asked of him,” head coach Derek Denny said. “He worked through jams and relied on the guys behind him. It was a perfect ending to a great year for that kid.”

Arnold is part of a group of seven seniors who led this team to the title. Harry Samuelson, Devin Glebe, McDaniel, Zach Gappa, Johnson and C. Peterson all started and played big roles for the Panthers on and off the field.

“Aside from them being great ballplayers, they’re great people,” Denny said as he fought back tears while talking about his seniors. “I’ve enjoyed coaching them so much. They’re great role models for our younger kids.”

They showed what can happen when a team comes together with a common goal. This is a group that loves to have fun in the dugout, but knows how to focus between the lines. Denny saw that focus go to another level when they lost in the section playoffs to Brandon-Evansville on June 1.

“I think that was the moment for us,” he said. “After that, it was a different focus. All season they were good, but they really went about their business knowing this was the end goal.”

Players continued to impress their head coach with how they approached being back at the state tournament in their two wins in Jordan. From the way they practiced, to how they handled themselves at the hotel, the Panthers weren’t going to leave without a championship.

“This means the world,” Johnson said. “We wanted to get back here so bad and finish the job with a win. This couldn’t have ended any better.”

In two years, this group of players finished their time together with a 48-5 record. The Panthers were dominant much of this spring with a 26-2 overall mark.

Almost a year after coming so close, the Panthers finally got to celebrate.

“Words can’t explain it,” Denny said. “I visualized the dogpile. You think about it, but until you actually see it with your own eyes, you don’t have the words to explain it.”

PARKERS PRAIRIE        011 310 0 - 6 9 3LEGACY CHRISTIAN     000 030 0 - 3 6 3PITCHING - Parkers Prairie - Levi Arnold - W, 7IP, 6H, 3R, 2ER, 2BB, 5SO; Legacy Christian - Josh Peterson - L, 5IP, 8H, 6R, 2ER, 2BB, 8SO; Logan Pierro - 2IP, 1H, 0R, 0ER, 0BB, 2SOPARKERS PRAIRIE OFFENSE - Devin Glebe - 0-4; Arnold - 1-4, RBI; Andrew Johnson - 1-3, BB, 1 run; Travis Yohnke - 2-4, 3B, 1 run, RBI; Casey Peterson - 2-4, 1 run; Matt Ferley - 2-3, 2B, 1 run; Zach Gappa - 1-3, 1 run; Hunter McDaniel - 0-1, BB, 1 run, 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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