Panthers fell short of meeting goals
When Jeremy Anderson took over as head coach of the Park Rapids baseball team the day before the first game of the season, he thought the Panthers had the potential to produce a winning record.
Losing seven games by three runs or less, including three by one run, prevented the Panthers from reaching that goal.
Park Rapids split 12 Mid-State Conference games to tie for fourth place in the conference standings with a 6-6 record. However, a 1-8 record in non-conference and tournament games left the Panthers with a 7-14 overall mark.
"Overall I was a little disappointed with the way the season turned out. I feel we fell below our expectations," said Anderson. "We had a few very good games, but were not consistent enough to get more wins."
The Panthers were competitive in conference play, losing two games by one run and being outscored 7-2 in a pair of losses to eventual champion Perham.
Park Rapids split games with Pequot Lakes (losing the opener 4-3 and winning the second game 7-4) and Detroit Lakes (scoring twice in the bottom of the seventh inning for an 11-10 win and dropping a 2-1 decision in the second game).
After routing Crosby-Ironton (12-2 in six innings and 16-0 in five innings), the Panthers dropped two close games to Perham (4-2 and 3-0) and a pair of games to Staples-Motley (11-2 and 12-8) to fall out of contention for the conference title.
A sweep over Wadena-Deer Creek (13-5 and 6-4) gave the Panthers a 6-6 record and a share of fourth place with Pequot Lakes. Perham went 11-1 while Staples-Motley and Detroit Lakes shared second place with 8-4 marks.
The non-conference schedule didn't go as well.
Park Rapids lost all three games at its invitational tournament, falling to Greenway 9-0, Frazee 8-1 and Menahga 7-4. The Panthers were also defeated by Cloquet 12-1 in five innings, Fergus Falls 16-0 in five innings, Pelican Rapids 19-9 in five innings and Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 4-2.
A 15-2 five-inning victory over Bagley in the regular-season finale gave the Panthers the No. 6 seed in the north half of the Section 8AA tournament. Park Rapids was in position to upset No. 3 Thief River Falls in the playoff opener before the Prowlers scored twice in the bottom of the seventh inning to rally for a 6-5 win.
"I think our record could have been around 11-10 or 12-9. One of our biggest downfalls was the fact that we didn't have the winning attitude," said Anderson. "As soon as things wouldn't go our way, we didn't rise above them. Our pitchers needed to throw strikes consistently, which makes our defense better. We had many close games and all we needed was someone to step up and make a play or get a clutch hit and we didn't do it most of the time."
Offensively, the Panthers had a solid season at the plate by batting .321 as a team. However, the pitching staff finished with a 6.05 ERA.
Comprising the varsity team this season were seniors Blake Olson, Justin Peterson, Cody Schirmers, Kevin Vaadeland and Dylan Walsh; juniors Tucker Coborn, Paul Dirks, Mitch Long, Kevin McMorrow, Jack Mercado and Dan Ricke; sophomore Dan Pike; and freshman Cory Odland.
Leading the Panthers offensively were the six players who were honored by the Mid-State Conference coaches: all-conference selections Schirmers, Coborn and McMorrow and all-conference honorable mention selections Peterson, Vaadeland and Walsh.
Schirmers batted .365 (23 for 63) as the Panthers' lead-off hitter and starter in center field. Schirmers had two doubles, one home run, three stolen bases and seven RBI while scoring 13 runs.
Coborn led the Panthers with 22 runs scored and was second with a .419 (26 for 62) batting average. Coborn, who started at second base, had three doubles, one triple and three stolen bases and drove in eight runs.
McMorrow, who started at first base and left field, led the team with a .434 (23 for 53) batting average. McMorrow had one double, two triples, one home run, 12 runs and 15 RBI.
Vaadeland, who started at first base and third base, led the team with three homers and 21 RBI. Vaadeland batted .281 (16 for 57) with four doubles and 14 runs scored.
Walsh was the Panthers' starter at shortstop and led the team with six doubles. Walsh hit .303 (20 for 66) with one triple, 13 runs, three stolen bases and 10 RBI.
Peterson was the starter in right field and hit .241 (13 for 54) with two doubles, seven runs and nine RBI.
Mercado hit .350 (7 for 20) with two doubles, five runs and eight RBI as a part-time starter at third base.
Pike started in left field and batted .333 (10 for 30) with nine runs and six RBI.
Dirks started games in left field, right field and second base and batted .296 (8 for 27) with one double, one homer, seven runs and seven RBI.
Ricke started at catcher and first base and batted .281 (9 for 32) with six runs and two RBI.
Odland started games at catcher and hit .250 (8 for 32) with two doubles, one run and two RBI.
Olson was a part-time starter at first base and hit .222 (6 for 27) with three runs and three RBI.
Long hit .166 (1 for 6) with one run.
Leading the pitching staff were McMorrow, Vaadeland, Coborn, Long, Pike and Ricke.
McMorrow only had a 1-4 record, but led the team with 40 innings pitched and a 3.60 ERA. McMorrow allowed 34 hits and 25 runs with 19 walks and 35 strikeouts.
Coborn went 2-1 with a 7.72 ERA. In 18 2/3 innings, Coborn gave up 42 hits and 23 runs with six walks and 19 strikeouts.
Vaadeland pitched 23 1/3 innings and had a 2-4 record and 8.87 ERA. Vaadeland allowed 27 hits and 28 runs with 19 walks and 15 strikeouts.
Long pitched 18 1/3 innings and gave up 17 hits, 23 walks and 26 runs. Long also struck out 23 batters and finished with a 1-3 record and 9.33 ERA.
Pike had a 1-1 record and 9.45 ERA, allowing seven runs on three hits and seven walks in 6 2/3 innings. Pike also recorded eight strikeouts.
Ricke pitched 10 1/3 innings, giving up 19 hits and 18 runs with seven walks and 15 strikeouts for a 9.58 ERA.
Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers have five seniors to replace. With six pitchers back with varsity experience to build around, Anderson is counting on Park Rapids to have more success next spring.
"Our five seniors will be missed. It's always hard losing players at key positions," said Anderson. "Looking ahead to next year, we have a very strong nucleus coming back. I really believe we could turn our record around from this year. I think our pitching will be better. We will focus not only on cutting down on walks, but being able to throw better strikes by spotting our pitches. We also need to focus on getting better fundamentally. We made too many simple mistakes, which cost us a lot of games. I look forward to working very hard on the things we need to improve on next spring and hope to have a more successful season."