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Panthers fell short of winning season

Last season, allowing 87 walks, 18 hit batters and 46 unearned runs led to a 7-14 record for the Park Rapids baseball team.

This season, the Panthers once again gave the opposition easy runs as 70 walks, 19 hit batters and 54 unearned runs led to a 9-12 record.

The Panthers could have had a winning record, but lost two games by one run, three games by two runs and two games by three runs.

"I believe we fell a little below the expectations I had set for the season," said Park Rapids head coach Jeremy Anderson. "We lost three or four games we should not have and I really think our record could have been 12-9 instead of 9-12. I also understand that we are not going to play well every night."

The Panthers opened the season by defeating Crookston 1-0 and Frazee 3-2 to reach the championship game of the Park Rapids Invitational tournament. A 5-2 loss in eight innings to Staples-Motley prevented the Panthers from winning that tournament. Two errors led to two unearned run in the championship game.

Crosby-Ironton took advantage of five errors to score 11 unearned runs in a Mid-State Conference doubleheader sweep over the Panthers. The Rangers won both games 9-8 despite being outhit 21-13.

Park Rapids split its next two conference doubleheaders. The Panthers rebounded from an 8-5 loss in the first game to defeat Wadena-Deer Creek 11-1 in five innings for a split and opened with a 10-9 victory over Perham before losing the second game 10-8.

A three-game losing streak followed as the Panthers were swept by Detroit Lakes (6-1 and 9-4) and dropped a 9-2 decision to Pelican Rapids.

A 10-2 win over Thief River Falls and a 9-8 win over Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton gave the Panthers a 6-8 record before another three-game losing streak followed as Park Rapids was defeated by Fergus Falls (23-5 in five innings) and Staples-Motley (5-0 and 2-0).

The Panthers closed the regular season with a three-game winning streak as victories over Bagley (10-4) and Pequot Lakes (11-1 in five innings and 8-3) led to a 4-8 record in the conference and 9-11 overall mark.

Park Rapids received the No. 7 seed for the Section 8AA tournament and had its season end with a 6-4 loss to No. 2 Detroit Lakes.

Staples-Motley ended the season rated No. 3 in the final state Class AA poll while Fergus Falls (No. 16 in Class AA), Frazee (No. 27 in Class A) and Perham (No. 28 in Class AA) were also ranked in the state.

For the season, the Panthers hit .330 as a team and had a team ERA of 4.06. That was an improvement over last year's .321 batting average and 6.05 ERA.

Leading the Panthers this season were the starting crew of seniors Tucker Coborn (shortstop), Paul Dirks (second base, left field, right field), Kevin McMorrow (first base, third base), Jack Mercado (third base, first base) and Dan Ricke (catcher, first base); junior Danny Pike (right field); and sophomores Sam Coborn (center field), Levi Erickson (left field) and Cory Odland (catcher, shortstop). Of that group, Tucker Coborn and McMorrow were all-conference players while Dirks, Mercado and Odland received all-conference honorable mention honors.

Ricke, Tucker Coborn, Mercado and McMorrow led the pitching staff, which allowed 154 hits and 130 runs in 131 innings.

Ricke went 2-2 with a 1.62 ERA, allowing 15 runs (six earned) on 22 hits and four walks in 26 innings. Ricke struck out 22 and threw a two-hitter against Frazee and a pair of five-hitters against Thief River Falls and Staples-Motley.

Tucker Coborn went 3-0 with two saves and a 2.23 ERA. In 22 innings, Coborn allowed 12 runs (seven earned) on 26 hits and six walks with 21 strikeouts. Coborn picked up saves against Crookston and Perham and threw a three-hitter against W-DC and a seven-hitter against Pequot Lakes.

Mercado had a 3-2 record and 3.75 ERA, picking up wins against Perham, Bagley (with a seven-hitter) and Pequot Lakes (with a four-hitter). In 28 innings, Mercado issued 22 runs (15 earned) on 31 hits and 18 walks while striking out 25.

McMorrow led the team with 32 1/3 innings pitched, going 1-5 with a 4.98 ERA. McMorrow allowed 33 runs (23 earned) on 36 hits and 12 walks while striking out 18. McMorrow threw a three-hitter against Crookston, a four-hitter against Staples-Motley and a five-hitter in the playoff loss to Detroit Lakes.

Also seeing some duty on the mound were Odland (0-0, 4.57 ERA in 7 2/3 innings), Pike (0-2, 8.40 ERA in 10 innings) and Erickson (0-1, 14.00 ERA in 5 innings).

Offensively, the Panthers had six regulars hit above .300.

Tucker Coborn led the Panthers with a .507 batting average (33 for 65), 20 RBI and 12 stolen bases. Coborn scored 12 runs and had two doubles, one triple and one home run.

McMorrow batted .377 (26 for 69, including five doubles) with seven runs, 17 RBI and five stolen bases.

Sam Coborn hit .351 (20 for 57, including three doubles) with 15 runs, 10 RBI and six stolen bases.

Dirks hit .329 (24 for 73) and led the team with 22 runs scored as the leadoff batter. Dirks had three doubles, one homer, seven RBI and seven stolen bases.

Pike hit .321 (18 for 56, including a home run) with eight runs and seven RBI.

Mercado batted .302 (16 for 53) with seven runs, five RBI and two doubles.

Ricke batted .295 (13 for 44) with 12 runs and seven RBI.

Erickson hit .269 (14 for 52) with eight runs and three RBI.

Odland batted .246 (15 for 61, including five doubles and two homers) with 13 runs and nine RBI.

Also seeing some varsity action this season were juniors Nick Belfiori and Dustin Martine; sophomores Ryan Peterson and Tyler Ridlon; and freshmen Kyle Goplerud, Zach Eystad and Tanner Otterness.

Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers will have to find some pitchers to take over the starting duties and some hitters to replace the five seniors who graduated.

"We will greatly miss our five seniors. They played key positions and, more importantly, anchored the pitching staff the last two seasons," said Anderson. "We are going to be young and inexperienced next season. There is no doubt in my mind that we have some younger players who can step up and fill the positions left by the seniors. Our biggest challenge may be finding the pitching we need to be able to compete in conference play and eventually in the section tournament."