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Softball: Morgan raises the bar for Ellsworth softball; Prescott on to sectional championship

In her four years as an Ellsworth varsity softball player, Morgan Kummer has played a large part in the Panthers softball program's continued improvement. As a senior, Kummer leaves the program with a regional title and a Middle Border Conference Player of the Year award. Katie Davidson / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 4
Sophomore Avery O'Neil pitched all six innings of the Panthers' 12-2 loss to Baldwin-Woodville on Tuesday, May 29. O'Neil gave up nine earned runs on 14 hits in the Tuesday sectional game. Katie Davidson / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 4
Ellsworth's Brianna Giese threw her body all over the infield in her team's 12-2 sectional loss to Baldwin-Woodville on Tuesday, May 29. The freshman was 2-for-4 at the plate on Tuesday. Katie Davidson / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 4
Sophomore Kaitlyn Nugent was 2-for-3 at the plate in Ellsworth's 12-2 loss to Baldwin-Woodville as the Panthers' top batter of their final 2018 game. Katie Davidson / RiverTown Multimedia4 / 4

Morgan Kummer didn't get a chance to swing the bat in her final high school softball game.

The recent Ellsworth High School graduate was intentionally walked in all three of her at bats in her team's 12-2 sectional playoffs loss to Baldwin-Woodville on Tuesday, May 29, and the Middle Border Conference Player of the Year's absence at the plate was felt.

The Panthers (14-5) were outhit 14-7 by the Blackhawks (16-5) in their final game of the 2018 season that concluded in six innings.

"Baldwin did a really nice job of hitting the ball hard, and their entire lineup just attacked tonight," Ellsworth's head coach Kenzie Diercks said. "They came out to win that game. We wanted to win that game, but I think Baldwin just showed that they wanted it more. They hit the ball harder and made plays when they needed to make plays, and unfortunately we didn't do that."

After two equally-matched, scoreless innings, B-W took a 7-0 lead in the third with six hits (one of which was a grand slam, two walks and an Ellsworth error. The Blackhawks extended their lead to 8-0 before the Panthers were able to put two runs on the board in the fourth inning thanks to a two-run double hit to left field by Brianna Giese.

Giese, a freshman, had two of her team's seven hits in the sectional game. Kaitlyn Nugent also had a two-hit night to lead her team's offense with Giese, but the underclassmen's four hits weren't enough to make up for the loss of Morgan who was forced to watch from first base as her team's season slipped away at the plate.

In the field, the Panthers committed three errors while B-W played a completely clean game. Nonetheless, the jerseys of shortstop Autumn Earney and second baseman Giese were completely dirtied due to their diving attempts at trying to keep B-W's hits from finding gaps.

"Those kids really know how to work hard and they're just athletes," Diercks said of her underclassmen. "We tell them to do anything, and they're just going to do what you say. They're any coach's dream athletes. They listen, they work hard, no attitude issues, and they know how to have fun and play softball."

Earney and Giese will return for three more years as members of the Panthers team, a team that now brings in much larger crowds to its games than when Morgan was a rookie.

The Panthers drew a full crowd to the Ellsworth Middle School Field on Tuesday. When asked if that was typical back in 2015, Morgan's freshman year, the now graduate said, "Oh, heavens no."

"When I was a freshman, we would maybe have 20 or 30 people here, and most of them were family members," Morgan said. "Now, with people coming to watch and getting a regional title, you can definitely see the steps (the program has) taken. It's crazy to think that where we were my freshman year, splitting in conference, to only losing five games and getting a regional title ... it's crazy to see how much the program can change in four short years."

Morgan can be credited for much of her team's four-year, positive transition.

"Without Morgan, we would not have been regional champs," Claire Kummer, Morgan's youngest sister said.

Sophomore Claire said her big sister has impacted each and every one of her teammates individually but also the community of Ellsworth as a whole.

"She demands perfection on the field, and when we execute, it shows and draws a crowd," Claire said. "People just love to see her play."

"The standard (Morgan) has set for hard work and discipline is just unique and unreal," Ellsworth's head coach Kenzie Diercks said. "All of the freshmen that came in this year just knew who to look up to. Morgan set her standards and everyone tried to live up to them, and that's just going to carry on to every single year."

Morgan will soon take on a new softball career at George Washington University where she'll be introduced to new teammates and coaches.

"I'm very fortunate to have more softball after this, but it does still hurt that I don't get more time as a Panther and playing with this team, because I love playing with all of these girls, especially my sisters."

"I won't ever get this opportunity to play with her again," Claire said, "but I'm really happy for her and she has so much more to look forward to at GW."

As the end of her final game as a Panther came to a close, Morgan shook hands one last time then huddled with her teammates one final time before sharing her thoughts on next season: "I just think that going into next year they have to know that they have a clean slate. They have expectations they need to meet, but they have to decide whether they want to go far or not."

"We'll remember it as a good season, but we just have to get ready to work hard," Diercks said. "We're losing a big spot in our lineup, so we've got to get ready to work extremely hard to fill that spot. I don't think we're ever going to fill that spot, but we need to find somebody who can make plays and do things to at least make up for a hit or something that Morgan would do in a game.

"I think these girls are going to come back next year wanting more. Last year we had goals and we did more than we thought we were going to do last year. Each year we're chipping away. We're getting bumps and bruises along the way, but we just have to keep going little by little."

"Ellsworth softball hasn't come this far in years, so I think that's something to be said about ourselves, but at the same time, we know we could have gone farther," Claire said. "I think that's what we carry into next year."

The Panthers will be down a star catcher, batter and leader in 2019, but with the talent the team will return, the large Ellsworth Nation crowd won't be diminishing any time soon.

Prescott 11, Altoona 6

The Prescott Cardinals (21-3) are one win away from advancing to the WIAA Division 3 State Tournament after defeating the Altoona Railroaders (19-7) in their Tuesday, May 29, WIAA subsectional game.

Freshman Bella Lenz was Prescott's top hitter of the night. Lenz was 3-for-4 at the plate with two doubles in her team's 10-hit game.

Kaili Wescott pitched all seven innings of the subsectional game and allowed four earned runs on 11 hits. Wescott also struck out four batters.

The No. 1 Cardinals will face the winner of No. 2 Northwestern vs. No. 4 Amery on Thursday, May 31, in the Sectional 1 championship game, which is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. in Cumberland.

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