TIGHTROPE TITLE: Parkers Prairie eludes elimination in championship run
For four straight elimination games, the Parkers Prairie baseball team had to fight to the finish in order to earn a spot in the Section 6A championship game against New York Mills.
But when that title game came on Friday, the Panthers didn't leave it to chance. The Panthers left no doubt.
"I anticipated another nailbiter. They're a good team," Parkers head coach Derek Denny said.
And through four innings in a 1-1 tie, the championship looked like it would be decided by a photo finish, too. But when Parkers Prairie put up four runs in the fifth, and then exploded with nine in the sixth, both the rout and the celebration were on in the 14-2 final.
"We didn't have a lot of returning starters and letterwinners," said Denny. "We had a group of young guys, and we weren't in the driver's seat for most of the year. It was just a couple weeks ago that we were floating around .500. We always, always, always talk about playing our best ball come playoffs. And we're doing it again."
The Panthers (18-9) clinched a third straight 6A championship after running through the losers bracket, winning five elimination games in a row to secure the crown. And after scores of 7-4, 9-7, 9-8 and 2-1, the difference of a dozen offered a little more breathing room to work with.
"It was very enjoyable," freshman outfielder Brendan Johnson said. "It was very relaxing. We came into the sixth inning, had nine runs, and we just pulled through. It was great."
The finish was an unexpected turn after a pitchers' duel dominated the first four innings. Hunter Haggenmiller toed the rubber for Parkers, while his counterpart in Ethan Hendrickx subdued the Panther battery for New York Mills (19-5).
Each team scratched across one run in the third inning—Parkers striking first on a Matt Ferley RBI single and then the Eagles responding when Charlie Fox crossed the plate. But the Panthers plated four in the fifth to take the upperhand. Johnson headlined the frame with a two-RBI single, and Parkers Prairie had a significant 5-1 lead.
And yet, it was nothing compared to what was still to come.
A total of 14 Panthers came to bat in the sixth inning. Six recorded hits, and nine came in to score.
"We made a little adjustment," Denny said. "It looked like he was pitching our guys outside, so we got them on the plate and started driving the ball to right field, not trying to pull it. And, boy, once they started doing that, the (hits) just started to drop."
"Coach Denny told us, 'We're in this,'" Johnson added. "It was tied at that point, and he just told us that it's all right, just hit the ball."
The offensive outburst put the mercy rule in play, and Haggenmiller did the rest from the rubber.
A run did cross in the bottom of the sixth, but it hardly made a dent on the scoreboard. Haggenmiller struck out the final batter, sending Parkers Prairie to a third consecutive state tournament.
"Haggenmiller threw it right down the middle. It was a perfect pitch," Johnson said. "I came down running. He just gave me a big hug and said, 'I love you.' I said, 'I love you too, man.'"
As the Panthers hoisted the Section 6A trophy, they celebrated one championship along with the opportunity to defend their state championship from a year ago.
"There's going to be eight fantastic teams down there," Denny said. "...We're the defending champs, and it's still fun and it's anybody's game. We're going to go down there and we're going to compete."
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