Panthers live up to high expectations
Zach Holsman believed the Park Rapids baseball team had the talent to once again contend for the Mid-State Conference title and make a run at earning a trip to the state Class AA tournament.
The Panthers lived up to those expectations by sharing the conference title for the second year in a row, just missing a spot in the section title game and compiling a 21-4 overall record.
During the season, the Panthers put together the longest winning streak in school history with 16 straight victories while the 21 wins were the second most in school history, trailing only the 22-5 mark by the 2007 team that won the Section 8AA and state Class AA consolation title.
The Panthers began the season by placing third at the Park Rapids Invitational with a 7-0 win over Sebeka, a 4-3 loss to East Grand Forks and a 9-1 win over Hawley. East Grand Forks scored three times in the seventh inning to defeat the Panthers en route to winning the tournament title. Park Rapids had nine hits against both Sebeka and Hawley and was held to only three hits in the loss to EGF.
After opening the conference schedule by sweeping Detroit Lakes by scores of 3-1 and 11-6, the Panthers split with Perham in a pair of one-run games. Park Rapids won the opener 9-8 before the Yellowjackets salvaged a split with a 6-5 win in eight innings in the second game. Park Rapids had 16 hits in the two wins over Detroit Lakes and 24 hits in the split with Perham.
That would prove to be the Panthers’ last loss during the regular season.
Park Rapids began its 16-game winning streak by belting out 21 hits in a conference sweep over Pequot Lakes by scores of 7-3 and 5-2.
The Panthers overcame nine errors with a 15-hit attack in a 15-9 victory over Pelican Rapids before a pair of 13-hit attacks sparked another conference doubleheader sweep with wins over Staples-Motley by scores of 15-2 in six innings and 10-2.
Park Rapids scored twice in the bottom of the seventh inning to defeat Wadena-Deer Creek 7-6 and followed with a 12-2 win in five innings for another conference sweep. The Panthers had 22 hits in those two wins.
Three wins against section opponents followed as the Panthers used an 11-hit attack to defeat Thief River Falls 9-2, a 13-hit attack to defeat Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 11-1 in six innings and a 13-hit attack to defeat Fergus Falls 9-4.
In the conference finale, the Panthers dominated Crosby-Ironton in a pair of five-inning games as a 25-hit attack sparked a 25-0 win in the first game and an 18-hit attack completed the sweep with a 21-0 victory in the second game.
Going 11-1 tied the Panthers with Perham for the Mid-State Conference title. The 11 wins set a school record for victories in conference play. Following the co-champs in the conference standings were Staples-Motley at 7-5, Detroit Lakes at 6-6, W-DC at 4-8, Pequot Lakes at 3-9 and C-I at 0-12.
A 12-hit attack led to a 9-1 win over Bagley in the regular-season finale as the Panthers improved to 18-2 and earned the No. 1 seed in the north for the section tournament.
In the playoffs, the Panthers edged No. 8 Northern Freeze 6-5, defeated No. 4 Roseau 12-2 in five innings and edged No. 3 EGF 7-6. The Panthers had 13 hits each against their first two opponents and 10 hits in the win over EGF.
Two bad innings prevented the Panthers from advancing to the section championship game.
Perham scored nine runs in the sixth inning to rally for a 10-3 win before Hawley scored five runs in the sixth inning to rally for a 7-6 victory as the Panthers were eliminated from the playoffs. Park Rapids had seven hits against Perham and eight hits against Hawley.
Hawley, the No. 3 seed in the south, defeated Perham, the No. 1 seed in the south, 7-6 in eight innings and 10-5 to capture the section title. Hawley lost both games at the state Class AA tournament.
For the season, the Panthers averaged 9.4 runs a game, which was the best among all the Class AA schools. Park Rapids allowed 3.6 runs a game. As a team, the Panthers had a .391 batting average and a 2.42 team ERA.
“I was extremely pleased with the outcome of this season,” said Holsman. “Everyone wants to make a run to state and we certainly had the talent to do so. Winning 16 games in a row, leading the state in runs scored, becoming conference champs again in back-to-back seasons and beating every team we faced this year is certainly no small feat.”
Leading the Panthers to one of the most successful seasons in school history were seniors Drew Bade, Brad Eischens, Rilee Johnson, Tyler McCollum, Josh Severtson and Sam Ness; juniors Jon Burlingame, Derek Porozinski, Jordan McCollum and Riley Massie; sophomores Connor Byer and Matt Bade; and freshman Chase Brand.
Drew Bade and Tyler McCollum received Section 8AA honors and were joined on the Mid-State Conference team by Severtson and Jordan McCollum. Johnson, Eischens and Porozinski were all-conference honorable mention players.
In 24 games, Drew Bade batted .551 (43 for 78) with a team-leading 34 RBI and three home runs. Bade also scored 33 runs, stole 15 bases and had 10 doubles and two triples as the starter at shortstop and third base. Bade also pitched in nine games (five as a starter), going 2-1 with a 3.17 ERA. In 35.1 innings, Bade allowed 28 runs (16 earned) on 31 hits and 12 walks with 29 strikeouts. Bade received the team’s Game Changer and Silver Slugger awards.
Tyler McCollum led the Panthers with a 9-0 record, two saves and 1.04 ERA in 13 appearances (seven as a starter). In 47.1 innings, McCollum gave up 11 runs (seven earned) on 40 hits and 14 walks while striking out 46. McCollum also played first base, second base, shortstop and right field and batted .369 (24 for 65) with 17 RBI, 13 runs and six steals in 25 games.
Severtson started 21 games in center field and hit .405 (30 for 74) with 28 runs, 20 RBI, 17 steals and 11 doubles. Severtson received a team Gold Glove award.
Jordan McCollum started 25 games at shortstop, second base and third base and batted .442 (42 for 95) with a team-leading 37 runs and 24 stolen bases. McCollum also had nine doubles and 25 RBI. In 11 pitching appearances (six as a starter), McCollum went 6-1 with a 1.86 ERA and one save, allowing 13 runs (10 earned) on 21 hits and 24 walks while striking out 41. McCollum also received a team Gold Glove award.
Johnson played 25 games at first base and hit .370 (30 for 81) with 27 runs, 18 RBI, six doubles and eight stolen bases while sharing the team lead with three triples. Johnson also was 0-1 with a 1.83 ERA in eight pitching appearances, allowing nine runs (four earned) on 14 hits and 12 walks with 14 strikeouts. Johnson received the team’s Panther (Coach’s) Award.
Porozinski also played in all 25 games at third base and batted .478 (33 for 69) with 29 runs, 26 RBI, six doubles, three triples and eight steals. Porozinski also went 4-1 on the mound with a 4.48 ERA in 10 appearances (four as a starter). Porozinski gave up 17 runs (13 earned) on 18 hits and 18 walks while striking out 14.
Eischens started all 25 games at catcher and hit .277 (18 for 65) with 19 runs and 10 RBI.
Burlingame was named the team’s Most Improved Player after batting .320 (24 for 75) with 18 runs, 24 RBI, six doubles and six steals as the starter in left field and center field.
Brand played 16 games at second base and right field, batting .472 (17 for 36) with 14 runs and eight RBI to earn the team’s Rookie of the Year award.
Byer played 15 games at catcher, left field and right field and hit .304 (7 for 23) with six runs and five RBI.
Matt Bade hit .185 (5 for 27) with four runs and three RBI in 10 games at second base and the outfield.
Massie played eight games in the outfield and hit .462 (6 for 13) with three runs.
Ness played in 13 games in right field and batted .111 (2 for 18) with three runs and two RBI.
Despite graduating six seniors, Holsman is looking for the Panthers to put another successful team on the field next season.
“This was a great group of seniors, each of which led us physically, mentally and emotionally this year,” said Holsman. “Next year’s team will miss the six senior leaders. However, we will have seven individuals with varsity experience returning. We have a nice pitching staff and young talent coming along looking to get plenty of action.”