Panthers knock off Wildcats on opening day

By Joe Peine
Posted 4/3/24

The Ellsworth Panthers defeated the River Falls Wildcats on opening day in River Falls on Monday by a score of 5-1. On a chilly April Fools home opener, the Wildcats got behind the 8-ball right away.

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Panthers knock off Wildcats on opening day


The Ellsworth Panthers defeated the River Falls Wildcats on opening day in River Falls on Monday by a score of 5-1. On a chilly April Fools home opener, the Wildcats got behind the 8-ball right away.

Ellsworth’s leadoff hitter, Aubrey Wittenberg, walked, and then Delaney Johnson put the Panthers up 2-0 with a home run. Aaliyah Huppert and Morgan Kolodzienski each got singles to keep the line moving, but Wildcats pitcher Audra Adermann got Ellsworth to ground a double play and then fly out to end the inning as the game moved into the bottom of the first.

Lauren Burke led off for the Wildcats and got on base via a hit by pitch. Jordan Torrez then singled, and it looked like the home team might answer back with a couple runs. However, junior captain and pitcher Aliza Acker got River Falls to fly out and struck out the next two batters to escape the inning unscathed.

Both sides were sat down in order in the second, and the game quickly moved into the middle innings.

Wittenberg flew out in her second at bat of the game, but Ellsworth got the next five batters aboard with a walk, a single, a walk, a fielder’s choice and a two out, RBI single. River Falls managed to limit the damage to one run by getting the final batter to strike out, leaving the bases juiced as they headed into the home portion of the frame with the Panthers up 3-0.

Unfortunately for the Wildcats, Ellsworth was throwing heat and nearly struck out the side in the bottom half of the inning. They would also get sat down in order in the fourth and fifth innings. Meanwhile, the only damage done by the Panthers came from a leadoff double by Huppert in the fifth who scored on a sacrifice fly by junior captain Acker, bringing the score to 4-0 heading into the sixth.

After a two out walk and a double off an error, the Panthers were knocking on the door once again in the top half of the inning, but to no avail, River Falls would get the strikeout and head into the bottom of the sixth down by four.

The Wildcats couldn’t do much with it though, as Torrez got her second hit of the night with a two out single but would be left stranded as the game moved into the final frame.

Ellsworth would score again in the top of the seventh after Huppert, Acker and Molly Janke all singled, by that’s all they would get, and River Falls was down to their final three outs with the score showing them sitting at a 5-point deficit.

An out followed by three straight singles by Ralston, Kivel and Bengtson scored a run, but a double play would end the game with a final score of Ellsworth 5, River Falls 1.

River Falls Head Coach Matt Smith says they had their chances, they just weren't able to capitalize on them.

“Ellsworth made the most of their opportunities, and you tip your hat to them. Their pitcher threw well, and we will learn with our approaches at the plate and improve,” Smith said. “For our first game and first time outside since March 14, there were a lot of positive things to build off of.

A ball bounces our way, a couple hits drop and it’s a different ballgame, but it didn't work out that way.”

Smith says they’ll keep at it and look to win their first Big Rivers Conference game of the season on Tuesday when the New Richmond Tigers come to River Falls.

“We'll learn, grow, stick together and come back tomorrow with the same mentality we attack with every day. I'm proud of our effort and know our best ball is ahead of us,” Smith said.

On the Panthers side, Head Coach Tom Diercks is happy with how well they played, especially the 10 K, one-run complete game by Acker who only allowed five hits to go with no walks in her stellar opening day performance.

“Aliza was really good in the circle. She mixed speeds nicely and kept them off balance. She fought through a little jam in the first with runners on first and third, nobody out and got us out of it. Then she rolled through the next five innings only giving up one base runner until they scored in the seventh,” Diercks said. “Aaliyah Huppert had a great day at the plate going 3-4 and scoring three times. She was aggressive with the bat. Delaney Johnson's homer in the first was big, it got us off to good start and gave us some momentum.”

Diercks says he thought both teams looked pretty good in the field considering nobody has been outside for the last week.

“It was good to get outside and face live pitching leading into conference play,” Diercks said. “We played really clean in the field, no errors and the ladies made a couple really nice plays in the outfield. River Falls played well too and was a good team to get us ready for our upcoming games.”

Looking forward, both teams have multiple games left to play this week, weather permitting.

The Panthers will return home where they will face conference rival Amery on Thursday at 5 p.m. and then host Red Wing on Friday at 4:30 p.m. in their final game of a loaded first week of competition.

River Falls will play two games in a row against conference rival New Richmond this week, once when they come to town on Tuesday and again on Thursday for the Wildcats first away game of the season. First pitch for both of those games is 4:30 p.m.

Ellsworth Panthers, River Falls Wildcats, girls softball, opening day