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Panthers relying on balanced hitting attack, deep pitching staff to spark winning season

Over the last four seasons, the Park Rapids baseball team has been one of the top teams in the Mid-State Conference and Section 8AA ranks.

New head coach Jeremy Anderson is expecting that winning tradition to continue this spring.

Anderson, who moved up from assistant coach when Mark Juberian stepped down as head coach Monday, has to replace several key players who helped the Panthers compile a 67-26 record during Juberian's four years at the helm.

Graduation has left the Panthers without six starters, including catcher Zach Lehrke (.389 average, 28 RBI), shortstop Tom Juberian (.389 average, 27 RBI), designated hitter Kyle Blanchard (.258 average, 15 RBI), and pitchers Grant Dierkhising (4-1 record) and Eli Donatelle (3-4 record).

"We lost a lot of guys who were the nucleus of those good teams, but I think we have the talent to keep our winning program going," said Anderson, who was Nevis' head coach in 2002 and was the Panthers' assistant coach the last two seasons. "We need the guys who are used to being role players to step up."

Being counted on to lead the Panthers this spring are the six players who return from last year's Section 8AA roster: seniors Kevin Vaadeland, Dylan Walsh, Justin Peterson and Cody Schirmers; and juniors Tucker Coborn and Kevin McMorrow.

Vaadeland had a 3-1 record and 1.08 ERA in 26 innings in eight games as a pitcher, allowing 18 hits and 12 runs (four earned) with 26 strikeouts and 16 walks. Offensively, Vaadeland hit .318 (14 for 44) with 17 runs and four RBI in 19 games.

Walsh started 21 games in center field and batted .219 (7 for 32) with 11 runs and seven RBI.

Peterson played 20 games in the outfield and hit .261 (12 for 46) with 14 runs and eight RBI.

Schirmers played 13 games in the outfield and at catcher and batted .308 (4 for 13) with four runs and three RBI.

Coborn played 21 games at second base and hit .296 (16 for 54) with 17 runs and six RBI. Coborn also made four pitching appearances, posting a 1.40 ERA by allowing six hits and one earned run in five innings of work.

McMorrow saw action in six games.

Competing for the other varsity starting spots will be seniors Josh Domino, Blake Olson and Jake Swenson; juniors Paul Dirks, Mitch Long, Jack Mercado and Dan Ricke; sophomore Danny Pike; and freshman Cory Odland.

The Panthers will be relying on a deep pitching staff with Vaadeland, Olson, Domino, Coborn, McMorrow, Ricke, Mercado, Long, Pike and Odland all capable of taking the mound.

Defensively, Ricke, Pike and Odland will handle the catching duties. The infield will feature Vaadeland, Olson and McMorrow at first base; Coborn, Dirks, Swenson and Mercado at second base; Walsh, Coborn and Domino at shortstop; and Vaadeland, Swenson, Ricke and Long at third base. Leading the outfield will be Schirmers, Peterson, Vaadeland, Walsh, McMorrow, Ricke and Pike.

Offensively, Anderson is looking for consistent contributions from all nine starters.

Starting the season on the junior varsity will be sophomores Tyler Barr, Nick Belfiori, Jordan Fisher, Brennan Larson, Dustin Martine and Christian Ridlon; and freshmen Robert Borger, Jordan Eischens, Levi Erickson, Tyler Johanning, Jade Johnson, Kyle Kniss, Tyler Kramer, Roderick Mackay, Hunter May, Taylor Pachel, Ryan Peterson, Tyler Ridlon, Tyler Soukup, Zachary Steffen and Joseph Tretbar.

That group will be looking to improve on last year's 7-3 record in the conference and 13-9 overall record and challenge for the Mid-State Conference and Section 8AA titles.

"Our biggest strengths will be our team speed and our defense. We should be fairly solid at all the positions, especially up the middle. My biggest concerns are getting our pitching staff to throw strikes consistently and finding players to get the clutch hits for us," said Anderson, who will be assisted by Bob Kapsner. "My expectations for this team are for the players to work hard every day to improve. I'm looking forward to a fun and successful season."