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Softball: Park plans to 'keep competing'

Park returns all but two starters off last season's 23-3 team, including first-team all-state selection Alayna SIlvis at shortstop. (Photo by John Molene)

Park romped to conference and section crowns and a No. 1 state ranking last season.

But it was a heartbreaking 1-0 loss in the state quarterfinals that may drive the Wolfpack this season.

Park (24-3 overall) stormed through a Suburban East Conference that sent three teams to state. The Wolfpack finished 14-1, three games ahead of second-place Stillwater.

The Wolfpack then went 4-0 in the Class 4A, Section 3 tournament to advance to state, Park's 14th appearance.

But in its opener at state, Park ran into a red-hot Buffalo pitcher and dropped a tough 1-0 decision. Pushed into consolation play, the Wolfpack outscored New Prague and Forest Lake by a combined 22-0 to earn the consolation championship.

With just two starters missing from that team — third baseman Gwen Warling and catcher Autumn Mortenson — the goals for the Wolfpack are pretty simple. Repeat their conference and section crowns and get back to state.

"I think the expectations are to just keep doing what we've been doing the last number of years," Park head coach Bob Loshek said. "Just keep competing. Compete in practice, compete in games, get after it, keep that focus going."

The Wolfpack have a host of talent returning, on the mound, defensively and offensively.

Shortstop Alayna Silvis of the Wolfpack was named to the Minnesota Fastpitch Coaches Association first team all-state last season, the only sophomore selected to the senior-dominated team.

Junior pitcher Hanna Mortenson and freshman right fielder Madi Meduna were both honorable mention all-state selections a year ago.

Managing expectations will be a key for Wolfpack this season.

"We're just playing it day-by-day I guess," Mortenson said. "But we have to put the work in each practice every day otherwise we won't be able to meet those expectations that we set."

Pitchers Mortenson and sophomore Bryanna Olson will form a dynamic one-two punch for Park.

"Pitching should be fun," Loshek said. "We've had Hanna and Bryanna for the last few years, but they're both been young. Those two are getting stronger. They've both worked on their pitches. They've added a pitch or two and more confidence. And then we've got some down on the lower levels, the ninth and 10th grade, who are throwing really well right now that we'll be taking a look at as the season progresses."

Others back for the Wolfpack are infielder/pitcher Delaney Young, second baseman Shelby Schabacker, outfielders Meduna and Riley Perryman.

Saren Croker, who backed up Autumn Mortenson last season, is the frontrunner to replace her this spring. Young and Heather Degler are possibilities to replace Warling.

Loshek sees a deep and talented SEC again this season, led by Woodbury, Forest Lake, Cretin-Derham Hall, Stillwater, Roseville and White Bear Lake.

"It just doesn't matter where you go," Loshek said. "All these teams are very, very good."

Loshek knows fans will be expecting big things of the Wolfpack this season.

"Last year was a great year, it was an incredible year," Loshek said. "You don't get too many years like that. But at the same time, we just understand that it's a new year, and the girls on this team understand that they've got to get after it."