Panthers aiming for district title and beyond

Palmyra's Megan Stone, right, rounds first base during a baserunning drill at softball practice last week in Palmyra, Mo.
Mat Mikesell/Courier-Post
By Mat Mikesell, Hannibal Courier-Post Sports Editor
Posted: Aug. 28, 2019 9:50 am

PALMYRA, Mo. — Bailey Lovelace knows the Palmyra softball team missed a great opportunity to win a district title last season.

The Panthers had their hopes of repeating dashed with a loss to Monroe City in the semifinals on their home field last fall, creating a bitter end to a disappointing year.

"It really did stink," said Lovelace, now a senior for the Panthers. "That left a really bad taste in our mouths."

The obvious goal this fall is to win a district championship after falling short. However, Palmyra is aiming even further.

"It’s always our goal to win a state title," Lovelace said. "We want to do that every year."

Doing so would be the program’s first sixth state championship, and the first since 2011. The Panthers think there’s enough pieces to at least make a run.

Lovelace and fellow senior Megan Stone return after leading the Panthers in nearly every offensive category last fall.

Stone led with a .521 batting average, a .930 slugging percentage along with nine doubles, four triples and four home runs. Lovelace hit .393, had a .690 slugging percentage and had nine doubles, two triples and four homers. She led Palmyra with 24 RBIs.

The Panthers, however, did lose Lexi Arch to graduation after she hit .405 with 10 doubles and 20 RBIs last fall.

But with Stone and Lovelace at the heart of the batting order, the Panthers are confident.

"These girls have done what they needed to do over the summer to get ready," Palmyra coach Jill Arch said. "They want that state championship. Everyone wants conference, but everything starts at district play, and they’re ready. I think we can be really successful.

"As long as we keep our pitchers healthy, I think we’ll be just fine."

Palmyra got a surprise addition at pitcher in the offseason as former Illini West pitcher Brooke Lawson transferred to the school. She fills in the vacancy left by the graduation of Lauren VanTress, and gives the Panthers two solid pitchers along with junior Lydia Althoff. As a sophomore, Althoff threw 32 2/3 innings, compiling a 4.71 earned run average with 25 strikeouts and 20 walks.

"Really we need just four solid innings from the starter then the other can come in and close it out," Stone said. "We can do that now."

Arch is also moving Stone and Lovelace around to use their abilities the best on the field. Lovelace moves one spot over from shortstop to third base, while Stone will move from second base to catcher.

Both players have no issue with the switches.

"Our mentality is just whatever’s best for the team," Stone said. "We want to do whatever it takes to win a district championship."

Palmyra also returns first baseman Cameron O’Brien, who hit .342 with six doubles, three home runs and 15 RBIs last fall. Emma Wittler and Sophie Hoerr will also see their roles extended in the outfield this fall.

The Panthers hope that’s the right mix to have a better finish.

"We were definitely disappointed last year," Stone said. "But knowing we have nearly our whole varsity team coming back gives us confidence."

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Naomi R. Cheek Hearn, 96, of Quincy, Ill., formerly of Hannibal, passed away at 10:43 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020.