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Panthers expecting more wins this spring

Senior Kevin McMorrow returns to lead the pitching staff for the Park Rapids baseball team this season.

When Jeremy Anderson reflected on his first season as head coach of the Park Rapids baseball team, one thing stuck out as the reason the Panthers didn't produce a winning season.

The Panthers' pitching staff issued 87 walks and hit 18 batters in 120 1/3 innings. Those free passes turned a potential winning season into a 7-14 showing.

Of those 14 losses, six were by three runs or less and three of those were by only one run, including a 6-5 loss to Thief River Falls in the first round of the Section 8AA playoffs.

Park Rapids had a solid season offensively, batting .321 as a team and averaging 5.3 runs a game. However, all those walks led to a team ERA of 6.05 as the Panthers' opponents averaged 6.6 runs a game.

Anderson believes giving up fewer walks will lead to more wins this season.

"Our pitchers have to be more consistent," said Anderson. "They have to throw strikes. We lost a lot of close games last year because we gave up too many walks."

The Panthers return a lineup capable of turning those closes losses into wins this spring.

Leading the Panthers this season will be seven players who saw varsity action last season: seniors Tucker Coborn, Paul Dirks, Kevin McMorrow, Jack Mercado and Dan Ricke; junior Danny Pike; and sophomore Cory Odland.

Coborn and McMorrow received Mid-State Conference honors and will once again lead the pitching staff.

Coborn went 2-1 with a 7.72 ERA and hit .419 (26 for 62) with 22 runs and eight RBI. In 18 2/3 innings on the mound, Coborn allowed 16 earned runs on 42 hits with 19 strikeouts and six walks. When not pitching, Coborn will play shortstop.

McMorrow led the team with a 3.60 ERA in 40 innings last season. McMorrow gave up 16 earned runs on 34 hits with 35 strikeouts and 19 walks while going 1-4. At the plate, McMorrow led the team with a .434 average (23 for 53) with 12 runs and 15 RBI. When not pitching, McMorrow will play first base, third base or the outfield.

Ricke also returns to the starting lineup after hitting .281 (9 for 32) last season. Ricke will play first base or catch and provide depth on the mound after allowing 11 earned runs on 19 hits with 15 strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings last season.

Pike returns to the outfield after batting .333 (10 for 30) with nine runs and six RBI last season. Pike will also pitch after going 1-1 with seven earned runs on three hits in 6 2/3 innings last spring.

Odland is the other returning starter. Odland hit .250 (8 for 32) as the starting catcher. Odland will also pitch some this spring.

Dirks batted .296 (8 for 27) with seven runs and six RBI and will play either second base or the outfield this season.

Mercado also returns with some pitching experience and will play third base or the outfield this spring. Mercado hit .350 (7 for 20) with five runs and eight RBI last year.

Looking to fill in for all-conference players Cody Schirmers (.365 average, 13 runs) in center field, Dylan Walsh (.303 average, 13 runs, 10 RBI) at shortstop, Kevin Vaadeland (.281 average, 14 runs, 21 RBI, 2-4 record) at first base and Justin Peterson (.241 average, nine RBI) in right field are juniors Nick Belfiori (second base) and Dustin Martine (infield) and sophomores Sam Coborn (infield/outfield), Ryan Peterson (pitcher/first base), Levi Erickson (pitcher/outfield) and Tyler Ridlon (pitcher/catcher).

The B and C squads will feature sophomores Jade Johnson, Tyler Kramer, Jordan Eischens, Hunter May, Tyler Johanning, Kyle Kniss, Caleb Abraham, Joe Tretbar and Robert Borger; and freshmen John Massie Tanner Otterness, David Dirks, Kyle Goplerud, Andy Waller, Chris Goplerud, Cory Gartner, Kody Walsh, Mason Long, Paul Prenevost, Zach Eystad and John Weiderin.

If the pitching staff improves, Anderson sees the Panthers relying on solid defense and quickness on the base paths to produce more wins this spring.

"We're going to have to play fundamental baseball. Our overall team speed is good, so we're going to play small ball," said Anderson, who is assisted by Bob Kapsner and Eric Pilgrim. "If our pitchers throw strikes and if we play good defense, we're definitely going to improve on last year's record."