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Panthers made run at section title

David Dirks capped off his senior season by earning Mid-State Conference honors.1 / 2
Kyle Goplerud capped off his senior season by earning Mid-State Conference honors.2 / 2

  Going into the season, Zach Holsman thought the Park Rapids baseball team had the talent to contend for the Mid-State Conference and Section 8AA titles.

     The Panthers went 9-3 to share the conference title with Detroit Lakes and Staples-Motley and finished the season with a 16-5 record, which was the team’s most successful season since going 22-5 and qualifying for the state tournament in 2007. Park Rapids’ bid to earn a trip to state fell short after going 2-2 in section play.

     Opening the season with a 6-0 record put the Panthers in position to contend for the conference title and get in position to make a run at reaching the section title game.

     A 15-0 five-inning victory over Wheaton was followed with a 10-7 victory over Frazee as the Panthers weren’t able to make their season debut until April 27.

     Sweeping conference games against Crosby-Ironton (6-1 and 13-0 in five innings) and Pequot Lakes (9-7 and 11-8) gave the Panthers a 4-0 record in the conference.

     Staples-Motley ended Park Rapids’ undefeated streak with a 6-1 win in the first game of a conference doubleheader. The Panthers rebounded to earn a split with an 8-6 win in the second game.

     After defeating Perham 4-1, the Panthers fell to 6-2 in the conference with a 15-9 loss in the second game.

     A six-game winning streak followed as the Panthers defeated Pelican Rapids (13-3), Thief River Falls (10-1), Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (4-3), Wadena-Deer Creek (12-2 in five innings and 12-4) and Detroit Lakes (6-0). That winning streak ended as Detroit Lakes won the second game 7-3 to prevent the Panthers from winning the conference title outright.

     With a 14-3 record, the Panthers received the No. 2 seed in the south half of the Section 8AA playoffs. The Panthers opened with a 13-3 win over No. 7 Breckenridge before falling to No. 3 Perham 6-1. Park Rapids stayed alive with an 8-5 win over No. 4 D-G-F before having the season end with a 6-1 loss to Crookston, the No. 2 seed in the north. Perham defeated Roseau, the No. 4 seed in the north, in the section championship game. Kasson-Mantorville defeated Perham 8-1 in the state title game.

     “With a goofy season as far as the weather, rescheduled and cancelled games, and spending two months in the gym, I was pleased with how the boys responded when game time did finally roll around,” said Holsman. “Sharing the conference title was a very nice accomplishment. At the start of the year, we set a goal of winning 75 percent of our games and attaining a top 2 seed in our section. We accomplished both of these and put ourselves in a very good spot to make a run for a section title.”

     For the season, the Panthers hit .353 as a team and averaged 8 runs a game. Defensively, 44 errors led to 29 unearned runs as the Panthers allowed 4.3 runs per game and finished with a 3.14 team ERA.

     Leading the Panthers this season were seniors David Dirks, Zach Eystad, Cory Gartner, Chris Goplerud, Kyle Goplerud, Paul Prenevost, Andy Waller, Kody Walsh and John Wiederin; juniors Drew Bade, Brad Eischens, Rilee Johnson, Tyler McCollum and Josh Severtson; and sophomore Jordan McCollum.

     Dirks, Kyle Goplerud, Tyler McCollum and Severtson earned all-conference honors while Gartner, Bade and Eischens were all-conference honorable mention selections. Tyler McCollum also earned Section 8AA honors.

     Kyle Goplerud hit .426 (23 for 54) with 13 runs, four doubles, eight stolen bases and 14 RBI in 20 games as a shortstop, third baseman and designated hitter. Goplerud also went 3-1 with two saves and a 4.03 ERA in 10 pitching appearances, allowing 18 hits and 18 runs with 28 walks and 20 strikeouts in 24.1 innings. Goplerud received the team’s Silver Slugger award.

     Dirks played in 20 games mostly at third base and batted .370 (20 for 54) with 17 runs, three doubles, two home runs, eight stolen bases and 18 RBI. Dirks also pitched 15.2 innings, going 3-1 with a 3.57 ERA in five appearances. Dirks allowed 15 hits and 14 runs with 14 walks and 10 strikeouts. Dirks received the team’s Gold Glove award.

     Tyler McCollum led the Panthers with a 4-1 record and 0.55 ERA. In seven appearances and 38 innings, McCollum allowed 25 hits and 11 runs with five walks and 29 strikeouts. McCollum also hit .231 (3 for 13) with three runs.

     Severtson started 19 games in the outfield and batted .396 (19 for 48) with 19 runs, three doubles, one homer, nine stolen bases and six RBI.

     Gartner played 18 games in the outfield and hit .367 (11 for 30) with six runs, two doubles, one homer, three stolen bases and eight RBI. Gartner also made eight pitching appearances, going 1-0 with one save and a 5.69 ERA. In 19.2 innings, Gartner allowed 17 hits and 20 runs with 17 walks and 31 strikeouts. Gartner was named the Panthers’ Most Improved Player.

     Bade played 20 games at shortstop and hit .333 (23 for 69) with 19 runs, two doubles, eight stolen bases and 13 RBI. In four pitching appearances, Bade went 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA, allowing 13 hits and eight runs with six walks and 13 strikeouts in 11.2 innings.

     Eischens started 19 games at catcher and batted .380 (19 for 50) with 13 runs, two doubles, one triple, two stolen bases and 14 RBI.

     Eystad started 18 games in center field and hit .377 (26 for 69) with 17 runs, two doubles, 13 stolen bases and 11 RBI. Eystad received the team’s Game Changer award.

     Chris Goplerud played in all 21 games in right field and first base and hit .294 (20 for 68) with 16 runs, five doubles, one homer, four stolen bases and 10 RBI.

     Wiederin and Prenevost alternated as the starter at second base. Wiederin played in 10 games and hit .333 (6 for 18) with three runs and three RBI while Prenevost played in 17 games and hit .241 (7 for 29) with 12 runs, five stolen bases and two RBI.

     Waller played in 11 games and batted .308 (4 for 13) with four runs and three RBI. Waller also went 1-0 with a 7.88 ERA in six pitching appearances. Waller gave up four hits and 11 runs with 14 walks and nine strikeouts in 8 innings.

     Walsh played in 13 games and batted .312 (5 for 16) with 10 runs, two doubles, four stolen bases and three RBI.

     Johnson started 10 games at first base and batted .290 (9 for 31) with seven runs, two doubles, three stolen bases and six RBI. Johnson was the team’s Vocal Encourager.

     Jordan McCollum hit .500 (11 for 22) in 14 games with 10 runs, two stolen bases and three RBI. McCollum, who was named Rookie of the Year, also went 3-1 with one save in six appearances on the mound. In 20.2 innings, McCollum gave up 14 hits and nine runs with 10 walks and 25 strikeouts for a 2.03 ERA.

     In conference play, the Panthers joined Detroit Lakes and Staples-Motley with 9-3 records. Perham finished at 8-4, W-DC was 5-7, Pequot Lakes ended 2-10 and Crosby-Ironton went 0-12.

     Kyle Goplerud played in 11 conference games and hit .483 (14 for 29) with nine runs and nine RBI and went 1-1 with two saves and a 5.78 ERA in 13.1 innings.

     Dirks batted .355 (11 for 31) with nine runs and 12 RBI in 11 games and went 2-1 with a 2.63 ERA in 13.1 innings and four appearances.

     Tyler McCollum went 2-0 with a 0.41 ERA in 17 innings and three appearances on the mound and batted .286 (2 for 7) with three runs in seven games.

     Severtson hit .333 (9 for 27) with 11 runs in 10 conference games.

     Gartner batted .294 (5 for 17) with three runs and four RBI in nine games and had a 7.50 ERA in 9.1 innings and three pitching appearances.

     Bade started 11 Mid-State games and hit .368 (14 for 38) with 10 runs and 10 RBI and had a 0.00 ERA in 2.2 innings.

     Eischens played in 11 conference games and batted .400 (12 for 30) with four runs and 10 RBI.

     “We had a lot of talented athletes on the field this season. It was fun to coach these boys, having confidence that they could beat anyone they faced in the opposing dugout,” said Holsman. “Like every other team except for one, we wish our season could have lasted a little longer, but in the end the players were pleased with the year they put together.”

     Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers have several key positions to fill. Even with the graduation of nine seniors, Holsman is looking for the returning varsity players to pave the way for another successful season next spring.

     “No doubt (the seniors’) leadership and baseball abilities will be missed. It is now in the hands of those juniors and sophomores to step up and replace the roles of the nine talented seniors we graduated,” said Holsman. “They will need to put in the work in the summer as underclassmen for us to remain competitive at this level. The more the Panthers play the game to win, instead of playing not to lose, the more success they will experience. Guys will have to be playing the game this summer. The more innings and at-bats a guy sees, the more of an edge he will gain for a starting spot next spring. The bar has now been set high for future seasons and we will look to remain competitive as we quickly reload and look to be playing our best baseball come late May in 2014.”