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Panthers stayed positive, made progress

Paul Dirks received Mid-State Conference honorable mention honors and was named the Panthers' Most Valuable Player after averaging a team-leading 12.0 points a game this season.

Matt Brandt knew the record of the Park Rapids boys basketball team after 22 games was deceiving.

The way the Panthers played in March proved it.

Park Rapids opened the season with 22 losses. In those games, the Panthers were held to under 40 points 14 times and in half of those games the Panthers failed to score 30 points. The Panthers were defeated by double digits 20 times, including four by at least 20 points, four by at least 30 points, six by at least 40 points and two by at least 50 points.

Brandt saw the potential of his team down the stretch as the Panthers defeated Crookston and Frazee to end the season with a 2-24 record.

"I was happy with the progression the kids made. The kids never gave up and we got better every game," said Brandt. "You want to be playing your best basketball at the end of the season and that's what we did."

After opening the season with a 74-47 loss to Bagley, the Panthers dropped Mid-State Conference games to Wadena-Deer Creek (58-36) and Crosby-Ironton (75-34).

Menahga (83-58) and Pine River-Backus (63-50) were also victorious before the Panthers lost both games at the Park Rapids Invitational, dropping a 74-73 double-overtime loss to Frazee and falling to Sauk Centre 43-27.

The Panthers then began the 2010 part of their schedule with a 60-38 loss to Warroad, a 67-59 loss to Roseau, a 72-35 conference loss to Pequot Lakes, a 74-24 loss to Perham and an 83-42 loss to Nevis.

Five straight conference losses followed as the Panthers fell to Detroit Lakes (80-39), Crosby-Ironton (72-29), Staples-Motley (87-50), Wadena-Deer Creek (55-39) and Detroit Lakes (72-21).

The Panthers' slide continued with losses to Walker-Hackensack-Akeley (66-56), Thief River Falls (68-38), Staples-Motley (76-45), East Grand Forks (69-29) and Pequot Lakes (70-29).

Park Rapids broke into the win column with a dramatic 55-53 win over Crookston before ending the regular season with an 88-43 loss to Hawley.

The Panthers received the No. 8 seed for the Section 8AA playoffs and eliminated No. 9 Frazee 75-58 before having their season end with a 64-27 loss to No. 1 Crosby-Ironton, which went on to claim runner-up honors at the state Class AA tournament.

C-I shared the conference title with Staples-Motley with 9-1 records. Detroit Lakes went 5-5 while Pequot Lakes (4-6), W-DC (3-7) and Park Rapids (0-10) followed. C-I ended the season with a 30-3 record while S-M went 24-6.

"Our lack of offense hurt. We would have won more games if we would have shot more consistently. We executed the offense and got open shots, but we didn't finish," said Brandt, whose team averaged 42 points a night while allowing 69. "I knew we had the ability. We had great practices and the kids worked hard and never gave up. The two wins at the end of the season showed we could play."

Leading the Panthers this season were seniors Paul Dirks, Dillon Theis, Roth Mattson, Mitch Long and Max Brown; and juniors Taylor Kimball and Christian Ridlon.

Dirks earned all-conference honorable mention honors and was named the Panthers' Most Valuable Player after leading the team with 312 points (12.0 per game). Kimball was second on the team in scoring with 147 points (5.7 per game) and Ridlon was next with 145 points (6.6 per game). Theis scored 102 points (4.6 per game), Mattson scored 92 points (4.2 per game), Long scored 80 points and Brown scored 62 points. Mattson received the team's Most Improved Player award while Long received the Mr. Hustle award.

Also contributing on the varsity this season were juniors Josh Hays (12 points) and Ben Randall (7 points); sophomores Tyler Ridlon (28 points) and Ryan Peterson (10 points); and freshmen Cory Gartner (10 points), Chris Goplerud (43 points) and Kyle Goplerud (38 points).

Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers will have to replace the five seniors. However, the return of nine players who saw varsity action and the addition of some talented younger players have Brandt expecting an improved season next winter.

"Our seniors provided great leadership. The younger kids will benefit from that leadership," said Brandt. "We have some talented younger players coming up. Hopefully those kids will put the time in this summer. If they do, I think we're going to be a very competitive team next year."