Replacing pitching is top concern
Entering the season, the biggest concern for head coach Jeremy Anderson is who will step up and deliver on the mound for the Park Rapids baseball team.
The Panthers graduated their top four pitchers from a team that finished with a 9-12 overall record, including a 4-8 mark in Mid-State Conference play. Replacing Tucker Coborn (3-0 record, 2.23 ERA), Dan Ricke (2-2 record, 1.62 ERA), Jack Mercado (3-2 record, 3.75 ERA) and Kevin McMorrow (1-5 record, 4.98 ERA) will be the Panthers' biggest challenge.
In addition, the Panthers have to replace those four plus Paul Dirks at the plate and in the field. Coborn (.507 average, 12 runs, 20 RBI, 12 stolen bases), McMorrow (.377 average, 17 RBI), Dirks (.329 average, 22 runs), Mercado (.302 average) and Ricke (.295 average, 12 runs, seven RBI) sparked the Panthers offensively a year ago. Coborn and McMorrow were all-conference players while Dirks and Mercado earned all-conference honorable mention honors.
Looking to lead the Panthers this spring are the four returning starters: senior Dan Pike and juniors Sam Coborn, Levi Erickson and Cory Odland.
Pike hit .321 (18 for 56) with eight runs and seven RBI and went 0-2 with an 8.40 ERA on the mound. In 10 innings, Pike allowed 10 earned runs on 12 hits and 12 walks. When not pitching, Pike will start in the outfield or at third base.
Coborn batted .351 (20 for 57) with 15 runs, 10 RBI and six stolen bases. Coborn will return to his starting spot in center field.
Erickson hit .269 (14 for 52) with eight runs and three RBI. Erickson also went 0-1 with a 14.00 ERA in five innings of work. Erickson allowed 10 earned runs on 17 hits and 10 walks. When not pitching, Erickson will start in the outfield.
Odland pitched 7 2/3 innings and allowed five earned runs on 10 hits and eight walks for a 4.57 ERA. At the plate, Odland batted .246 (15 for 61) with 13 runs and nine RBI. Odland was the starting catcher last season and was an all-conference honorable mention selection. Odland will pitch and play the infield when not catching.
Also returning with some varsity experience are seniors Nick Belfiori (4 for 20, four runs, two RBI) and Dustin Martine (2 for 8, one RBI); juniors Ryan Peterson (3 for 6, two runs, two RBI) and Tyler Ridlon (0 for 2); and sophomores Zach Eystad (1 for 3), Kyle Goplerud (0 for 3) and Tanner Otterness (0 for 1). Martine, Goplerud and Peterson will provide depth on the pitching staff with Martine playing shortstop and Peterson playing first base. Belfiori and Ridlon will provide depth in the infield while Goplerud, Otterness and Eystad will provide depth in the outfield. Ridlon will also catch.
Rounding out the varsity team are juniors Jordan Eischens (infielder) and Hunter May (outfielder).
Starting the season on the junior varsity and looking to earn a spot on the varsity roster are sophomores David Dirks (infielder/pitcher), Cory Gartner (outfielder/pit-cher), Chris Goplerud (outfielder/pitcher), Ma-son Long (infielder), John Massie (first baseman), Paul Prenevost (second baseman), Andy Waller (infielder/pitcher) and Kody Walsh (infielder); and freshmen Drew Bade (infielder/pitcher), Cody Brumbaugh (catcher/infielder), Brad Eischens (catcher/pitcher), Zach Jewison (outfielder), Rilee Johnson (catcher/pitcher/ infielder), Tyler McCollum (pitcher/infielder), Sam Ness (outfielder) and Josh Severtson (utility player).
"We have our starting catcher and outfield back from a year ago. We're working on finding pitchers who consistently throw strikes and finding players to step up and fill key positions," said Anderson, who will be assisted by Bob Kapsner and Eric Pilgrim. "The varsity team is not set and may not be set for a while. We will evaluate varsity and junior varsity players game-by-game and play those players on varsity who we feel give us the best chance to win."
Staples-Motley won the conference title with a 12-0 record and qualified for state by defeating Fergus Falls in last year's Section 8AA championship game. The Panthers were the No. 7 seed in the subsection.
Anderson is looking for his returning players to improve throughout the season and play their best ball come tournament time.
"I'm looking for the team to work hard and keep improving throughout the year. The players will need to be dedicated to the team for this to happen," said Anderson. "We have a lot of good, young talent that may be asked to step up and play some key roles as the year goes along. Our goal is always to have the nine players on the field who give us the best chance to win. As we find the right combinations, we should start to see more success."