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Prep baseball: Panthers show promise in season-opening loss

Ellsworth's Ryan McGregor and head coach Ryan Christenson were both optimisitic after their team's 6-3 rallying loss to the Webster Tigers, the defending Shell Lake sectional champions, on Thursday, April 12. McGregor led all batters with three hits in four at bats. Katie Davidson / RiverTown Multimedia

The Webster Tigers traveled over two hours to Brown's Field Complex where they were greeted by an Ellsworth team that had reached fever pitch in its anticipation for its season-opener on Thursday, April 12.

The long drive was worthwhile for the Tigers (2-1) who grabbed a 6-3 win, and despite starting their season with a loss, facing the defending Shell Lake sectional champions was lucrative for the Panthers, too.

"I'm glad we played them first, because we learned a lot," senior Ryan McGregor said. "This was their third game, so they already have some of the little stuff fixed up."

With two games already under their belt, the Tigers got off to an early 2-0 lead in the first inning off of singles from Hunter Gustafson and Austin Spafford.

McGregor responded with Ellsworth's first hit of the season in the bottom of the first, but the Panthers were unable to get on the board until the sixth inning when Webster's reliever Jack Washburn, with two outs and the bases loaded, walked sophomore Jared Marson in his first at bat, sending Shane Elsen home.

"I was really proud of Jared for having the composure to do that," Panthers' head coach Ryan Christenson said. "That's a pretty big situation."

But by that point, the Tigers had already scored five runs and were able to control Ellsworth's late-game rallies that were spurred by singles from Elsen and McGregor.

The two seniors created all of Ellsworth's five hits, and McGregor led all batters with three hits in four at bats.

Webster's Austin Spafford and Hunter Rosenbaum both went 2-for-3 at the plate to lead the Tigers.

Owen Matzek received the loss after giving up three runs on four hits in the first one and two-thirds innings. Matzek recorded one strikeout and zero walks in his first game of the season.

McGregor took over at the mound in the top of the third, and allowed three runs and nine hits. He struck out five Webster batters and told the Herald his arm felt "pretty good" despite the weather conditions.

Rosenbaum was credited with the win after giving up two hits and zero runs and recording five strikeouts in the first four innings.

"I feel like those are the two best pitchers we'll see all year," McGregor said of Rosenbaum and Washburn. "They're both committed to D1 schools, and they both pitch mid- to upper-80s, so they're really good."

Having only had practiced live hitting once prior to Thursday's game, McGregor, unable to stop smiling, was pleased with what his team was able to do against the Tigers' D1 commits.

"Out of my four years that I've been on varsity, this was probably our second-best first game, other than my freshman year when 90 percent of our team were seniors."

"With the pitchers that we saw, the hitters we saw, the way they battled against our pitchers at every at bat, I really liked the way we competed overall as a team and fought back as a team," Christenson said. "We just had a few too many mistakes in the beginning of the game, and that happens during the early part of the year a lot of time, and when you face a good team, sometimes you end up on the losing end like we did tonight."

With the first game in the books, the Panthers are upbeat about what's to come in their condensed 2018 season, which they hope won't suffer any more weather-related impediments.