Panthers reach goal with winning record
One of Zach Holsman's goals in his first season as the Park Rapids head baseball coach was to end the regular season with a winning record and make a run at contending for the Section 8AA title.
The Panthers fulfilled the first of those two goals by going 11-8-1 during the regular season. That gave Park Rapids the No. 3 seed in the south half of the section and a home playoff game.
The Panthers fell short of reaching their second goal as No. 6 Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton avenged a loss during the regular season to eliminate Park Rapids in the first round of the playoffs.
"Finishing above the .500 mark was a goal of ours from the beginning of the season, which felt really good to accomplish," said Holsman, whose team compiled an 11-9-1 record to improve on last year's 5-16 record. "Improving on previous years is always a success. Two other goals we had were getting a home playoff game along with making it to the double-elimination part of our section. One of these we accomplished. I was very pleased with my first year with the program. A solid foundation was set. Now we can focus on building further."
Offensively, the Panthers scored at least five runs in 12 games and went 9-3, but were held to two runs or less five times, which were all losses. Defensively, the Panthers held opponents to five runs or less 11 times and went 9-1-1 in those games. However, Park Rapids gave up at least six runs 10 times and went 2-8 in those games.
Park Rapids opened the season by going 1-2 at its own tournament, defeating Hawley 5-2 in five innings, losing to Greenway 15-7 and defeating Staples-Motley 9-8. The Panthers had 28 hits, but committed 10 errors in those three games.
After being held to only two hits in a 6-2 loss to Pelican Rapids, the Panthers opened Mid-State Conference play with an 8-2 loss and a 4-4 tie with Detroit Lakes.
Park Rapids then went 4-1 in its next five conference games by splitting with Wadena-Deer Creek (wining 6-4 and losing 6-2), sweeping Pequot Lakes by scores of 6-4 and 10-0 by belting out 22 hits, and winning the first game against Staples-Motley 4-1. That gave Park Rapids a 4-2-1 conference record.
A three-game conference losing streak followed as Staples-Motley won the second game 13-12 and Perham swept a doubleheader by scores of 14-4 in five innings and 10-8.
The Panthers snapped that conference losing streak as 31 hits led to a pair of five-inning wins over Crosby-Ironton by scores of 14-4 and 20-3. That sweep left Park Rapids with a 6-5-1 Mid-State record.
After wins over Thief River Falls (4-3 in nine innings) and D-G-F (10-6), the Panthers ended the regular season with a 9-2 loss to Fergus Falls and a 10-0 win over Bagley.
Park Rapids opened the section playoffs at home, but No. 6 D-G-F held the Panthers to only two hits in a 3-2 victory.
For the season, the Panthers scored 6.8 runs a game while allowing 5.9. Park Rapids finished with a .318 team batting average and a 4.41 team ERA as 44 errors led to 38 unearned runs.
Leading the Panthers this season were the 12 players who played in at least 13 games: seniors Sam Coborn, Jordan Eischens, Levi Erickson, Ryan Peterson, Cory Odland and Tyler Ridlon; juniors David Dirks, Sam Eystad, Chris Goplerud and Kyle Goplerud; and sophomores Drew Bade and Tyler McCollum.
Coborn received Section 8AA and Mid-State Conference honors after batting .329 (25 for 79, including three doubles and two triples) and leading the team with 19 runs and 13 stolen bases and sharing the team lead with 17 RBI. Coborn started all 21 games in center field. Coborn received the team's Game Changer award.
Erickson was second on the team with a .444 batting average (24 for 54, including four doubles and a home run) while scoring 16 runs, stealing 10 bases and driving in 17 runs. Erickson started 20 games, mostly at designated hitter. Erickson received the team's Silver Slugger award.
Odland hit .407 (22 for 54, including four doubles and a triple) and had 17 runs, nine stolen bases and 17 RBI in 20 games. When not pitching, Odland played shortstop.
Eischens started 18 games at second base and batted .273 (12 for 44, including a homer) with seven runs, four stolen bases and six RBI. Eischens received the team's Vocal Encourager honor.
Peterson started 17 games at first base and batted .200 (2 for 10) with four runs and two RBI. Peterson received the team's Gold Glove and Panther Award.
Ridlon played in 14 games at catcher and batted .188 (6 for 32) with four runs and five RBI.
Eystad was the Panthers' leading hitter with a .464 average (26 for 56) with 16 runs, 13 RBI and 11 stolen bases. Eystad started in the outfield in 20 games. Eystad was named the team's Most Improved Player.
Chris Goplerud played in all 21 games in the outfield and hit .303 (20 for 66, including three doubles, a triple and a homer) with 14 runs, 11 RBI and six stolen bases.
Dirks played in 20 games at third base and pitcher and batted .205 (9 for 44) with nine runs, six RBI and three stolen bases.
Kyle Goplerud played in 17 games and batted .121 (4 for 33) with six runs and three RBI.
Bade was the starter at shortstop and third base in 16 games and batted .390 (16 for 41) with 11 runs and 15 RBI. Bade received the team's Rookie of the Year honor.
McCollum played in 13 games and hit .400 (6 for 15) with four runs and an RBI.
Also contributing on offense were juniors Cory Gartner (.167 average in nine games), Kody Walsh (five games), Paul Prenevost (one game), John Wiederin (one game) and Andy Waller (one game); and sophomores Rilee Johnson (.176 average, six runs in 10 games) and Brad Eischens (one game).
Leading the pitching staff were McCollum, Dirks, Odland, Erickson, Gartner, Bade and Kyle Goplerud.
McCollum led the Panthers with a 1.80 ERA, allowing 21 hits and six earned runs in 23 1/3 innings. In eight appearances and two starts, McCollum went 1-0 with three saves and struck out 23 while walking only four.
Dirks led the Panthers with a 4-1 record and one save and had a 2.54 ERA. In six appearances and five starts, Dirks gave up 32 hits and 11 earned runs in 30 1/3 innings. Dirks struck out 20 and walked five.
Odland went 2-3 in six starts and finished with a 5.38 ERA. In 30 1/3 innings, Odland gave up 29 hits and 21 earned runs with 42 strikeouts and 22 walks.
Gartner made four appearances, three as a starter, and went 2-1 with a 3.68 ERA. In 19 innings, Gartner gave up 13 hits and 10 earned runs with 20 strikeouts and 10 walks.
Erickson went 1-1 in two starts, allowing six hits and nine earned run with 14 strikeouts and 15 walks in 11 1/3 innings.
Bade made three pitching appearances and went 1-0 with a 5.25 ERA. In 10 2/3 innings, Bade allowed 12 hits and eight earned runs with six strikeouts and seven walks.
Kyle Goplerud went 0-3 in five appearances. In 10 1/3 innings, Goplerud issued 15 hits and 15 earned runs with 13 strikeouts and 11 walks.
Also seeing some time on the mound were Ridlon and Eystad, who both pitched 1 1/3 innings.
Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers have six seniors to replace. However, with the return of some experienced varsity players and the addition of some talented junior varsity players, Holsman is looking for the Panthers to make improvements next spring.
"Six seniors leave the program and all had unique roles at different points in the season. Some responded greatly to their call to leadership while others let opportunities slip. As we look forward to next year and the upperclassmen coming back, we will expect a great deal from our future seniors," said Holsman. "The boys were challenged in many ways this season, including by the coaching staff. We will continue to enforce discipline and continue to pursue molding young men of good character. Next year we will have close to 20 juniors and seniors along with some talented sophomores. I can see many good problems we may have on our hands with a large number of talented baseball players. Our expectation for next year's team is to put in the work before mid-March. Those putting in the time in the off-season will reap the benefits of success in the future."