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Baseball team relying on pitching staff, seniors to make run at winning conference, section titles

Leading the Park Rapids baseball team this season are seniors (from left) Brad Eischens, Josh Severtson, Tyler McCollum, Drew Bade, Rilee Johnson and Sam Ness.

     Last spring, a deep and talented pitching staff led the Park Rapids baseball team to a successful season.

     Head coach Zach Holsman is counting on a talented pitching staff to do the same this spring.

     A year ago, seven pitchers won at least one game as the Panthers shared the Mid-State Conference title with Detroit Lakes and Staples-Motley with 9-3 records en route to going 14-3 during the regular season. Park Rapids won two games in the Section 8AA playoffs to finish with a 16-5 overall record. The 16 wins were the most for the Panthers since going 22-5 and qualifying for the state tournament in 2007.

     Having three of those pitchers along with three other starters returning has Holsman believing the Panthers can once again contend for the conference title and make another push in the section tournament.

     “We have a solid group of pitchers making a return this season. Our pitching staff will be well-rounded,” said Holsman, who will be assisted by Chuck Schmitz and Mark Waller. “I expect out team batting average to be at the top of the conference as we continue to pound the ball around the field again this year. If we can stay focused defensively, we can be tough.”

     Looking to lead the Panthers this season are the six returning starters: seniors Drew Bade, Brad Eischens, Rilee Johnson, Tyler McCollum and Josh Severtson and junior Jordan McCollum. Tyler McCollum earned Section 8AA honors and joined Severtson as all-conference players. Bade and Eischens were all-conference honorable mention players.

     Bade and the McCollums return to lead a pitching staff that allowed 4.3 runs a game while compiling a 3.14 team ERA last season.

     Tyler McCollum led the Panthers with a 4-1 record and 0.55 ERA. In 38 innings pitched, McCollum allowed 25 hits and 11 runs (three earned runs) with five walks and 29 strikeouts.

     Jordan McCollum had a 3-1 record and 2.03 ERA after allowing 14 hits and nine runs (six earned runs) with 10 walks and 25 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings and six appearances.

     In 11 2/3 innings and four appearances, Bade went 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA by allowing 13 hits and eight runs (six earned runs) with six walks and 13 strikeouts.

     The six returning players also helped the Panthers average 8 runs a game with a .353 team batting average.

     In 14 games, Jordan McCollum hit .500 (11 for 22) with 10 runs and three RBI. Severtson batted .396 (19 for 48) with 19 runs, three doubles, one home run, six RBI and nine stolen bases in 19 games. Eischens played in 19 games and batted .380 (19 for 50) with 13 runs, two doubles, one triple and 14 RBI. Bade batted .333 (23 for 69) with 19 runs, two doubles, eight stolen bases and 13 RBI. Johnson played in 10 games and hit .290 (9 for 31) with seven runs, two doubles, three stolen bases and six RBI. Tyler McCollum hit .231 (3 for 13) with three runs in 12 games.

     In the field, Bade returns at shortstop and could see some time at second base, Eischens returns at catcher and could play the outfield, and Severtson returns in the outfield. Johnson will start at first base and provide depth at pitcher, Tyler McCollum will provide depth at second base and Jordan McCollum will play shortstop.

     The Panthers have some key positions to fill with the graduation of nine players, led by all-conference players David Dirks, Kyle Goplerud and Cory Gartner. Dirks hit .370 (20 for 54) with 17 runs, three doubles, two homers, eight stolen bases and 18 RBI and went 3-1 with a 3.57 ERA in 15 2/3 innings. Goplerud hit .426 (23 for 54) with 13 runs, four doubles, eight stolen bases and 14 RBI while going 3-1 with two saves and a 4.03 ERA in 24 1/3 innings. Gartner batted .367 (11 for 30) with six runs, two doubles, one homer and eight RBI while going 1-0 with one save and a 5.69 ERA in 19 2/3 innings.

     Also graduating last season were Zach Eystad (26 for 69 for a .377 average with 17 runs, two doubles, 11 RBI and 13 stolen bases), John Wiederin (6 for 18 for a .333 average with three runs and three RBI), Kody Walsh (5 for 16 for a .312 average with 10 runs, two doubles and three RBI), Andy Waller (4 for 13 for a .308 average with four runs and three RBI and a 1-0 record and 7.88 ERA in 8 innings) , Chris Goplerud (20 for 68 for a .294 average with 16 runs, four doubles, one homer and 10 RBI) and Paul Prenevost (7 for 29 for a .241 average with 12 runs).

     When not pitching, Kyle Goplerud played shortstop, third base and designated hitter; Dirks played third base; and Gartner played the outfield. Eystad started in center field, Chris Goplerud played the outfield and first base, while Wiederin and Prenevost alternated as the starter at second base.

     Looking to fill those sports will be senior Sam Ness (outfielder), juniors Jon Burlingame (outfielder), Riley Massie (outfielder/pitcher) and Derek Porozinski (third baseman/pitcher); and sophomores Connor Byer (catcher/outfielder) and Matt Bade (second baseman/catcher/pitcher).

     Starting the season on junior varsity are freshmen Chase Brand, Riley Cannon, Kenny David, Justin Dravis, Sam Eystad, Ben Garcelon, Cole Hoscheid, Wendell Kidd, Marcus Kimbrough, Keith McDaniel, Derek Reichling, Cole Rossman, Jared Sunram, Kyle Trumble-Shanilec, Logan Veo and Tim Walsh.

     “Developing leaders in life is our goal. Wins and losses and championships will come and go, but high integrity and great character will live on forever,” said Holsman. “As a team, we have expectations to play the best baseball we can at the end of the season, focusing one game at a time to become better than the day before. With experienced athletes in playoff baseball and a determined mindset to focus through thick and thin, we will be tough in June.”