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Softball: Ellsworth seals first-round win over Somerset

Ellsworth's Morgan Christopherson crosses home plate after a hit by teammate Abby Giese in the first inning of Thursday's Division 2 Section 1 playoff game against Somerset in Ellsworth. The Panthers advanced with a 7-2 victory.1 / 2
Ellsworth's Riley Harrison (right) slides safely around Somerset's Justice Rondeau to score a run in the second inning of Thursday's playoff game in Ellsworth.2 / 2

ELLSWORTH - Even in the first game of the Division 2 Section 1 playoffs, Ellsworth head softball coach Ryan Casper was still tinkering with his lineup.

With a condensed season due to a stormy spring, the Panthers are still searching for that perfect lineup. And in Thursday's first-round game against sixth-seeded Somerset, third-seeded Ellsworth played a new lineup for the first time this season.

"(Freshman) Abby Giese, today was the first time she's played (at third base)... Jenna (George) has gone back and forth at first base, and we had Darby (DeGross) out in right field," Casper said.

But while the lineup is still a work in progress, the Panthers put together a strong effort to open the playoffs with a 7-2 victory.

"It looked like we were taking baby steps," Casper said, "but this is, in my opinion, one of the nicest lineups I've had to deal with. We just have to give it time to mature."

The Panthers had prior success against the visiting Spartans, picking up a sweep on April 30. But that was no reason for Ellsworth to relax in the first round of the playoffs.

"I was a little nervous coming into this, to be honest," said Panthers' sophomore pitcher Serena Hoisington. "You can never underestimate an opponent, regardless of their record. They can be undefeated or they haven't won a game, you can't underestimate them either way."

Somerset capitalized in the top of the first inning when a bloop single by Sammi Martell brought home Megan Starry for the early 1-0 lead. But Ellsworth responded in kind in the bottom half of the inning as Morgan Christopherson, Hoisington and Jenna George loaded the bases on consecutive singles. Giese brought Christopherson home on a fielder's choice.

The Spartans (2-11) retook the lead in the second when a throwing error to third base allowed Jocelyn Rivard to reach home, giving Somerset a 2-1 edge. Ellsworth was charged with five errors in the game, with two coming in the second inning.

"That's just kind of the growing pains," Casper said. "I think we'll be all right."

The offense certainly gave the Panthers (9-4) some insurance to handle the defensive gaffes. After getting hit by a pitch to lead off the bottom of the second, Riley Harrison raced for home after a wild pitch by Rachel Cloutier. Harrison slid wide of the tag from the catcher to tie the game at 2-2.

Then in the third, Hoisington cracked a deep shot to right field, leading to a triple. A batter later, George drove in the deciding run on an infield grounder.

Hoisington finished with four of Ellsworth's 10 hits, going 4-for-4 with a triple, a double, three RBI and a run scored. Not bad for a player who admitted she was in a bit of a funk offensively.

"I've been in a slump, I'll be the first to admit it," she said. "I haven't been seeing the ball; I've been late on it. So it felt good to have a 4-for-4 night."

Casper added, "She made an adjustment against Prescott; she had struggled for a game or two back then. She moved back a little bit (in the batter's box) and she hasn't looked back since."

The Panthers strung together four hits for two runs in the fourth, then tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the fifth for a 7-2 advantage. Christopherson went 2-for-3 with two runs scored and an RBI, and George had a pair of singles and an RBI.

Throwing a complete game, Hoisington held Somerset to four hits, striking out eight and walking just one in the victory.

"Serena gave up those two early runs, and then she just kind of locked on," Casper said. "That's what we needed her to do. She pitched a nice game."

Ellsworth will face Middle Border Conference foe Osceola, the No. 2 seed in the section tournament, Tuesday in Osceola. The Chieftains and Panthers did not play in the regular season.

Joe Brown

Joe Brown is the sports editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he worked at the Marshall Independent and the St. Cloud Times. For updates on local sports, follow Joe on Twitter at @RE_JBrown.

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