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Panthers counting on unity, versatility to succeed

Providing leadership for the Park Rapids baseball team this season are seniors (from left) Tyler Ridlon, Cory Odland, Sam Coborn, Levi Erickson, Jordan Eischens and Ryan Peterson.

Zach Holman's is counting on the Park Rapids baseball team's versatility to produce a successful season.

Holsman begins his first head coaching assignment after playing football, basketball and baseball at Hill City High School and playing four years of football and baseball and one year of basketball at Northwestern College in St. Paul.

Last season, the Panthers averaged 4.6 runs a game while allowing 7.1 runs a game. Park Rapids scored at least 10 runs only twice while allowing at least 10 runs eight times. Offensively, the Panthers had a team batting average of .264. Defensively, 65 errors led to 47 unearned runs as the Panthers compiled a 5.11 team ERA. Park Rapids finished with a 3-9 Mid-State Conference record and 5-16 overall record.

Holsman is looking for the Panthers to improve on those numbers this season.

"We will always be looking to build off of the previous season in one way or another. One thing specifically we are looking to improve from last year is our team batting average," said Holsman. "Beyond the numbers, we want our boys to grow as individuals; not only on the baseball field, but in life as well. The key to a solid athletic program is discipline. I always mention in practice that you will be challenged this year. It is up to you how you will respond. There are many things we incorporate into a practice that stretch beyond baseball and to challenge these boys mentally and emotionally will cause them to think outside of themselves and the game of baseball. Each week we talk to our players about a quality character attribute and challenge them to apply it on this team and outside of athletics in every day life. If there were a slogan tagged onto this baseball team, it would be "transforming boys into men ... and playing baseball."

The Panthers return nine players who saw extensive varsity action last season. That list features seniors Sam Coborn, Levi Erickson, Cory Odland, Ryan Peterson, Tyler Ridlon and Jordan Eischens; and juniors Zach Eystad, Chris Goplerud and Kyle Goplerud. Coborn, Erickson and Odland were all-conference honorable men- tion selections last season.

The Panthers return four starters in Odland at catcher, Peterson at first base, Erickson in left field and Coborn in center field. Ridlon will be the back-up catcher and will contend for the starting spot at second base. Eischens will compete for the starting job at third base while the Gopleruds and Eystad will provide depth in the infield and outfield.

Offensively last season, Kyle Goplerud batted .308 (16 for 52) with 12 runs and four RBI. Odland batted .303 (23 for 76) with a team-leading 12 doubles and 12 RBI. Chris Goplerud hit .300 (15 for 50) with eight runs and nine RBI. Coborn batted .286 (20 for 70) with a team-leading 15 runs and 10 stolen bases and had six RBI. Erickson hit .246 (17 for 69) with 13 runs and six RBI. Eischens hit .267 (4 for 15) with two runs and two RBI. Eystad batted .250 (4 for 16) with one run and one RBI. Peterson had a .180 average (11 for 61) with seven runs and three RBI. Ridlon batted .097 (3 for 31) with one RBI.

Returning to lead the pitching staff are Odland and Kyle Goplerud. Erickson, Eystad, Ridlon, junior David Dirks and sophomore Drew Bade will also see some time on the mound this spring.

Odland led the Panthers with a 4.29 ERA last season, going 1-4 in 31 innings. Odland allowed 34 runs (19 earned) on 30 hits and 31 walks while striking out 40.

Kyle Goplerud went 0-1 with a 5.86 ERA. In 14 1/3 innings, Goplerud gave up 17 runs (12 earned) on 14 hits and 10 walks with 10 strikeouts.

Erickson led the Panthers with 44 1/3 innings pitched and compiled a 3-5 record and 4.74 ERA. Erickson allowed 40 runs (30 earned) on 46 hits and 33 walks with 31 strikeouts.

Looking to fill in for last year's senior class of third baseman Danny Pike (an all-conference honorable mention selection who hit .278 with 12 runs and eight RBI), shortstop/pitcher Dustin Martine (who went 1-3 with a 4.34 ERA), pitcher/designated hitter Christian Ridlon (who hit .571 with five runs and five RBI) and second baseman Nick Belfiori (who hit .267 with nine runs and four RBI) will be Dirks, Bade and juniors Cory Gartner, John Wiederin and Kody Walsh. Dirks will compete for the starting spot at third base, Bade is scheduled as the starting shortstop, Wiederin and Walsh will compete for the starting job at second base, and Gartner will start the season in right field.

"One major strength we have at the varsity level is having plenty of pitchers. When you have an abundance of guys who can play a position in the field as well as throw strikes on the mound, you have some valuable weapons," said Holsman. "Another important piece we are working on as a team and hoping it becomes a great strength of our program is promoting unity. Our players really work hard to promote this unity every day in practice. This will be an attribute of this team which will continue to grow to be a strength that other programs do not have."

Starting the season on the junior varsity will be juniors Tanner Otterness, Paul Prenevost and Andy Waller; sophomores Cody Brumbaugh, Brad Eischens, Jeff Jacobson, Zach Jewison, Rilee Johnson, Tyler McCollum, Sam Ness and Josh Severtson; and freshmen Jon Burlingame, Riley Massie, Jordan McCollum, Logan Moorehouse, Derek Porozinski and Dylan Weaver.

"These lineups are subject to change depending on how each player responds," said Holsman. "It is a guarantee that the starting lineup will be different from Game 1 to Game 20."

Last season, Perham won the Mid-State Conference title with an 11-1 record while Detroit Lakes followed at 10-2. Park Rapids received the No. 9 seed in the north for the Section 8AA playoffs and was eliminated with an 8-1 loss to No. 8 Thief River Falls. Fergus Falls won the section title.

If the players buy into his philosophy, Holsman believes the Panthers have the talent to move up in the conference standings and advance past the first round of the playoffs.

"As far as expectations, I believe that we have a great chance at being an above-.500 team," said Holsman. "We will work hard to go deep into the section playoffs."