Confident Panthers end state drought
You can't blame the players on the Park Rapids baseball team for not knowing when the last time the Panthers qualified for the state tournament. No one on this year's varsity roster was born when the Panthers finished second at the 1986 state Cla...
You can't blame the players on the Park Rapids baseball team for not knowing when the last time the Panthers qualified for the state tournament.
No one on this year's varsity roster was born when the Panthers finished second at the 1986 state Class A tournament. That was the first and only state appearance in the history of the Park Rapids baseball program.
That drought ended Friday at Hawley as the Panthers gutted out a 3-2 win over Bagley in the semifinals before defeating Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 7-5 in the Section 8AA championship game to advance to state.
"This group has had a lot of success in the past. They were part of the Babe Ruth state championship team (in 2005) and they like the tournament atmosphere," said Park Rapids head coach Mark Juberian. "These kids work hard at it. We have good athletes who know they can play with anybody."
Park Rapids will carry the No. 5 ranking in the latest state Class AA poll and a 20-4 record into its state quarterfinal game against Glencoe-Silver Lake Thursday morning at 10 at Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud. Win or lose, the Panthers will play again at 3 p.m. Thursday.
Glencoe is rated No. 10 in the state with a 22-3 record. The other two teams in the top half of the bracket are No. 14 Kenyon-Wana-mingo (18-5) and Pipestone (20-5). In the lower bracket, Triton (19-8) will play No. 15 Jordan (20-4) and No. 11 St. Cloud Cathedral (21-6) will play No. 7 Hinckley-Finlay-son (22-3).
"Hopefully this will draw attention to our program," said Juberian. "We're going to try to make a good showing and represent Section 8AA."
Panthers get past Bagley
After defeating top-rated Perham 5-3 in the Subsection 3 title game and routing Bagley 11-1 in five innings during the regular season, the Panthers liked their chances of advancing to the section title game.
"The win over Perham was huge," said Juberian. "That was like a section title game for us. After that win, we knew we could play with anybody."
Bagley wasn't about to make the Panthers' road to state an easy route.
Jake Klostermeier allowed only three Park Rapids hits the entire game. However, two wild pitches in the first inning and two errors in the second inning helped the Panthers advance.
A lead-off walk to Curtis Tolle, two wild pitches and a sacrifice fly by Grant Dierkhising gave Park Rapids a 1-0 lead in the first.
After Bagley tied the game on Jake Hendrickson's two-out RBI single in the bottom of the inning, the Panthers took a 2-1 lead in the second. Eli Donatelle and Kyle Blanchard reached on errors to start the inning. After Dylan Walsh advanced the runners with a bunt, Doug Haas' grounder to second scored Donatelle.
Klostermeier allowed only two baserunners (Zach Lehrke reached on an error with two outs in the third and Walsh singled with two outs in the fourth) until the sixth when Lehrke led off with a single and was forced at second on Chris Bruhn's grounder. Bruhn scored the eventual game-winning run on Donatelle's double.
Bagley had a rally wiped out in the fourth when Walsh went back and caught a pop up by Keaton Fontaine in short right field with two runners on base.
The Flyers mounted a rally in the bottom of the sixth off Park Rapids starter Brandon Gartner. An error and singles by Brady Godtlund and Conrad Dewey loaded the bases with one out. Bruhn came on in relief and gave up a run-scoring grounder to Jordon Nelson before stranding runners on second and third.
In the seventh, Bruhn walked Zac Blair, who advanced to second on Isaiah Pemberton's grounder. With two outs, Jake Ham singled to left, but Tolle gunned down Blair at the plate to end the game.
Gartner, who improved to 5-1 on the season, allowed one earned run on five hits over the first 5 1/3 innings for the win while Bruhn gave up one hit over the final 1 2/3 innings for the save.
"I didn't really expect the first game to be so tough. You have to give credit to Bagley," said Jub-erian. "Having such a close game got us to focus. That little scare reminded us that we had to come ready to play."
Park Rapids 110 001 0......3 3 1
Bagley 100 001 0......2 6 4
PLAYER AB R H RBI
Tolle 3 1 0 0
Juberian 3 0 0 0
Dierkhising 2 0 0 1
Lehrke 3 0 1 0
Bruhn 3 1 0 0
Donatelle 3 1 1 1
Gartner 0 0 0 0
Blanchard 3 0 0 0
Walsh 2 0 1 0
Haas 3 0 0 1
Totals 25 3 3 3
Gartner (5.1IP, 2R, 1ER, 5H, 1BB, 3K), Bruhn (1.2IP, 0R, 1H, 1BB, 2K) and Lehrke; Klostermeier and Nelson. W-Gartner, 5-1. L-Klostermeier. Sv-Bruhn (1). 2B: Donatelle 1. SB: Juberian 1, Bruhn 1.
Home runs lead to title
The Panthers were looking for a quick start offensively and another solid pitching performance by Bruhn to capture that elusive section title.
Bruhn kept the D-G-F hitters off balance with a barrage of off-speed pitches while Lehrke provided the spark at the plate early to send the Panthers to state.
Bruhn, who went the distance in the Panthers' 5-0 win over Pequot Lakes and 5-3 victory over the state's No. 1-ranked team earlier in the playoffs, scattered 10 hits and stranded 10 runners on base. The senior right-hander, who threw 30 pitches against Bagley, threw 129 pitches against the Rebels. All that work in the playoffs didn't bother Bruhn, who struck out the final two batters he faced to set off a long-awaited celebration.
"If you want to give out an MVP award, you can give it to Chris Bruhn, "said Juberian. "We rode him. He was tired, but it was his game to win or lose."
Lehrke provided two key hits that gave the Panthers a quick 4-0 lead.
In the first inning, Tom Juberian walked with one out, moved to second on a balk by D-G-F starter Ben Schmitke and scored on Lehrke's two-out double. Bruhn followed with a single, but courtesy runner Cody Schirmers was thrown out at the plate.
In the third, Tolle led off with a walk and Juberian followed with a grounder to short to force Tolle. After Grant Dierkhising's single, Lehrke picked an ideal time for his first home run of the season as his three-run blast to left gave Park Rapids a 4-0 lead.
The Rebels closed the margin to 4-2 in the fourth on Schmitke's solo homer and Kevin Swenson's RBI single.
Juberian's solo homer to left-center field, his eighth of the season, gave the Panthers a 5-2 edge, but again D-G-F responded with Schmitke's RBI single.
A single by Bruhn and run-scoring doubles by Donatelle and Blanchard scored courtesy-runner Justin Peterson and Donatelle and pushed Park Rapids' advantage to 7-3 in the sixth. Blanchard was thrown out at the plate on Tolle's fly ball to left, but the Panthers had a four-run lead with six outs to go.
D-G-F again closed the deficit in the bottom of the inning when a hit batter and walk set up an RBI single by Victor Sofolosky. After another walk, Jason Klevgaard's grounder scored Riley Nelson. But Bruhn got out of the inning when Tolle caught Schmitke's fly ball in front of the fence in left field.
Bruhn then gave up a lead-off single to Adam Fischer to start the seventh, but retired the next three batters to preserve the win.
Lehrke went 2 for 4 with four RBI and Bruhn went 2 for 3 to pace Park Rapids' nine-hit attack while Juberian scored three times as the Panthers avenged a 9-8 loss to D-G-F during the regular season.
Park Rapids 103 012 0.....7 9 2
D-G-F 000 212 0.....5 10 0
PLAYER AB R H RBI
Tolle 3 0 0 0
Juberian 3 3 1 1
Dierkhising 4 1 1 0
Lehrke 4 1 2 4
B ruhn 3 0 2 0
Peterson 0 1 0 0
Donatelle 3 1 1 1
Gartner 0 0 0 0
Blanchard 2 0 1 1
Walsh 2 0 1 0
Haas 2 0 0 0
Totals 26 7 9 7
Bruhn (7IP, 5ER, 10H, 3BB, 8K) and Lehrke; Schmitke, R. Nelson (3), M. Nelson (6) and Yliniemi. W-Bruhn, 7-1. L-R. Nelson. 2B: Lehrke 1, Blanchard 1, Walsh 1. HR: Juberian 1, Lehrke 1. SB: Juberian 1.