ERIE — With a roster loaded with up-and-coming young talent, the signs point to a bright future for the Erie-Prophetstown softball program.|
However, in their long-awaited season opener against Annawan-Wethersfield on Thursday afternoon, the Panthers showed that perhaps the future is now as two of their youngsters came up big in a 10-9, nine-inning victory at Miller Memorial Field.
First, freshman center fielder Stephanie Thulen capped a 3-for-3, three-RBI batting debut by singling in the tying run in the bottom of the seventh inning after the Titans had rallied for a 9-8 lead on a three-run triple by their own frosh, third baseman Kailynn Osborne.
Next, Thulen came up big defensively when A-W loaded the bases with nobody out in the top of the ninth. Osborne flew out to Thulen, who then threw a perfect strike to E-P catcher Kaeli Kovarik to catch a sliding Kaila Dunfee at the plate. Panther sophomore pitcher Savannah Mettler then got Titan slugger Celina VanHyfte to ground out and end the threat.
"I could feel that it was a good throw, and I knew I had to get (Dunfee) out," said Thulen. "That was a big turning point in the game. When one person does something good, that makes the whole team feel good, and I was glad I could do my part."
In the bottom of the ninth, it was Mettler's turn to do her part. After Kovarik led off the inning by singling off A-W junior ace Megan Foes and took second on Clare Kramer's sacrifice bunt, Mettler dropped a bloop single into shallow right field to give coach Bob Phelps the win in his E-P debut.
"She helped me a lot with that play, and it made me have high expectations coming up," Mettler said of Thulen's key double play. "I went up there thinking that I had to get on and not let anything by me. I thought it'd be caught when I hit it."
Mettler finished with two hits, as did Kramer, and also drove in two runs to counter two-hit outings by Annawan-Wethersfield's Osborne, Celina VanHyfte, Foes and Dunfee. Titan freshman shortstop Morgan VanHyfte was 3-for-5 in her prep debut.
"When you score nine runs, you should win," said A-W coach Jeremy Trill. "That's a lot of runs not to win. We had plenty of offense but not enough defense. That's something I'm confident will come around."