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Zach Eystad led the Park Rapids baseball team last season with 26 hits and a .464 batting average.

Panthers expect successful spring

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  Having the start of the season delayed could prove to be an advantage for the Park Rapids baseball team.

     The Panthers return plenty of pitchers from last year’s team that tied for fourth place in the Mid-State Conference standings with a 6-5-1 record and ended with an 11-9-1 overall record. Park Rapids received the No. 3 seed in the south for the Section 8AA tournament and was eliminated with a 3-2 loss to No. 6 Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton in the first round.

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     Having plenty of quality arms could pay dividends in May once all the postponed games have been rescheduled.

     “With a short season, our vast pitching staff should aid in pushing us through those tough couple innings or games which other teams may not be so fortunate,” said Park Rapids head coach Zach Holsman, who begins his second season as the Panthers’ head coach. “We are looking to stay strong no matter who we put on the mound.”

     Returning to lead the Panthers this season are eight players who saw extensive varsity action last spring: seniors David Dirks, Zach Eystad, Cory Gartner, Chris Goplerud and Kyle Goplerud; and juniors Drew Bade, Rilee Johnson and Tyler McCollum.

     Of that group, five return who started games last season.

     Looking to lead the pitching staff, which compiled a 4.41 team ERA last season, are Dirks, Gartner, Kyle Goplerud, Bade and McCollum.

     Dirks led the Panthers by going 4-1 with one save and a 2.54 ERA. In 30 1/3 innings over six appearances, Dirks allowed 21 runs (11 earned) on 32 hits and five walks while striking out 20.

     McCollum led the team with a 1.80 ERA and three saves while going 1-0 in eight appearances. McCollum pitched 23 1/3 innings and gave up seven runs (six earned) on 21 hits and four walks while striking out 23.

     Gartner pitched 19 innings in four appearances and went 2-1 with a 3.68 ERA. Gartner gave up 20 runs (10 earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts.

     Bade, who was an all-conference honorable mention selection, pitched 10 2/3 innings and went 1-0 with a 5.25 ERA in three appearances. Bade allowed nine runs (eight earned) on 12 hits and seven walks while striking out six.

     Kyle Goplerud made five appearances, going 0-3 with a 10.16 ERA. In 10 1/3 innings, Goplerud allowed 21 runs (15 earned) on 15 hits and 11 walks with 13 strikeouts.

     Offensively, the Panthers returns four batters who hit at least .300 from a team that averaged 6.8 runs a game.

     Eystad played in 20 games and batted .464 (26 for 46) with 16 runs, 11 stolen bases and 13 RBI. McCollum hit .400 (6 for 15) with four runs and one RBI in 13 games. Bade batted .390 (16 for 41) with 11 runs and 15 RBI in 16 games. Chris Goplerud batted .303 (20 for 66) with 14 runs, 11 RBI and six stolen bases in 21 games.

     Dirks played in 20 games and batted .205 (9 for 44) with nine runs and six RBI. Johnson hit .176 (3 for 17) with six runs in 10 games. Kyle Goplerud hit .121 (4 for 33) with six runs and three RBI in 17 games.

     Also back with some varsity experience are seniors Kody Walsh (five games), John Wiederin (one game), Paul Prenevost (one game) and Andy Waller (one game) and junior Brad Eischens (one game). Rounding out the varsity roster are junior Josh Severtson and sophomore Jordan McCollum.

     The starting infield will feature Johnson at first base; Tyler McCollum, Prenevost, Wiederin and Walsh at second base; Bade and Kyle Goplerud at shortstop; Dirks at third base; and Eischens and Walsh at catcher. The outfield will feature Chris Goplerud in left, Eystad in center, and Gartner, Waller and Severtson in right.

     Also being counted on to pitch some quality innings will be Eystad, Waller, Johnson and Jordan McCollum.

     That group will look to fill in for last year’s senior crew of Sam Coborn (.329 average, 19 runs, 13 stolen bases, 17 RBI), Levi Erickson (.444 average, 16 runs, 10 stolen bases, 17 RBI), Cory Odland (.407 average, 17 runs, 17 RBI, 2-3 record, 5.38 ERA), Jordan Eischens (.273 average), Ryan Peterson (.200 average) and Tyler Ridlon (.188 average).

     Starting the season on the junior varsity will be juniors Sam Ness and Mike Liao; sophomores John Burlingame, Riley Massie, Derek Porozinski and Dylan Weaver; and freshmen Micah Barrett, Connor Byer, Cole Coborn, Noah Schulz and Isaac Kosel.

     “We have a good amount of depth at various positions. Those who are in the lineup each ballgame will depend on who is ready mentally and who is putting together quality at-bats,” said Holsman. “We have plenty of experience playing the game and several players just have that knack for the game. We have so much depth this year. Everyone on the varsity squad is capable of stepping into the lineup and making plays for us. The more these guys compete, the more they will gain confidence in themselves. A positive mental framework for each individual will be of high importance as we enter a one-month span of a very busy schedule. The more these boys can overcome the obstacles they face, the better we will be in June.”

     Perham won the conference title last year with an 11-1 mark while Roseau defeated Fergus Falls in the section championship game. Holsman is counting on the Panthers to make a run at winning both the conference and section titles this spring.

     “We have 14 juniors and seniors returning this season, many of which have played valuable innings in past years. We look to push the .700 mark in winning percentage and be very competitive within our conference. We expect to finish in the top two in our conference and we will be gunning for a No. 1 seed heading into the playoffs,” said Holsman, who will be assisted by Kenny May. “We’ve done our best to prepare our boys physically for the road ahead. Now it will be a mental game from here on out. We want to be playing our best baseball at the end of the season. Beating teams such as Perham, Fergus Falls and Detroit Lakes will be key to entering the post-season on top. Regardless of our seed, we want to make a solid run at winning a section championship.”

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