Prep softball: Panthers pick up first win

PEKIN — The wind was definitely gusting on Thursday at Pekin High School.

Panther softball coach Aaron Ledger is hoping those are the winds of change.

After opening the season with eight tough losses, including two losses in which the Panthers let leads slip away against Columbus and Danville, Pekin put away a dominating win over WACO on their home diamond. Addison Smith connected on a team-leading three hits at the plate while allowing just three hits over four innings in the pitching circle in a 13-1 Southeast Iowa Superconference win over the Warriors.

“It just took one or two hits to get things swinging our way," Ledger said. "I love that the girls don’t ever quit.”

They certainly didn't quit making the winning plays on Thursday. Eighth-grade catcher Carlie Gambell threw out three WACO baserunners during the game, picking off two runners at third base to stymie any potential Warrior rallies.

Alex Parsons also made a key play in the opening inning, holding on to a throw from Gambell near second base as WACO freshman Natalie Wagler came dashing in looking for a one-out stolen base. Instead, Parsons was able to keep the ball in her glove while tagging the heel of Wagler for the out, helping Smith get through a scoreless opening inning with groundouts to Myah Bainbridge at third helping to strand Kaylan Willits at second base after a two-out walk drawn by Rhiannon Horn and a wild pitch.

"Alex really gets the team going," Ledger said. "She's a great leader. She helps everyone on the field and in the dugout. It gives our younger players a lot of confidence."

The plays in the field helped spur on Pekin at the plate. Gambell, Smith and Parsons each connected on base hits to open the game for the Panthers before coming around to score runs to put Pekin up 3-0.

WACO (0-6) continued to be frustrated by the Panthers in the second inning. Gambell picked off Madelyn Farmer at third base with one out, helping Smith get through a scoreless second inning striking out two batters. Back at the plate for the second straight inning, the top trio of Pekin order against reached and scored as Smith and Parsons each singled and scored for the second time in as many trips to the plate helping the Panthers open a 6-0 lead.

Having already lost an early 8-1 lead to Columbus earlier this season and a 7-3 lead to Danville earlier this week, there was still a sense of doubt that the game was put away as WACO put three of the first four batters on base in the top of the third inning. Once again, Pekin's defense stepped up as Gambell caught Carlee Lunsford stranding off third base for the second out of the inning before Smith's third straight out protected a 6-1 Pekin lead.

In the bottom of the third, the Panthers began to lock in their first victory. Gambell and Smith each collected their third hit in as many innings to start a one-out rally before Parsons lined a shot to center that was dropped by Lunsford, bringing home two runs to put Pekin up 8-1.

Bainbridge singled in Parsons to put the Panthers up by eight. After Katelynn Schultz beat out on an infield single, Mikayla Schuttlefield sent a pitch into the wind and over the fence in left for a three-run homer that put Pekin up 12-1, setting up the Panthers to clinch the win in the fourth on a bases-loaded walk drawn by Parsons.

“Being able to come out and get on top early was great," Ledger said. "They've proven that they can mark contact and do some good things. This time, we didn't let anything get away from us."

After heading to previous-ranked Louisa-Muscatine for SEISC south division acton on Friday, Pekin (1-8) will compete at the 52nd annual Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont Invitational on Saturday. The Panthers will face Centerville and Davis County starting with a match-up against the Redettes at 10 a.m.