Panthers focus on fundamentals

Solid pitching, timely hitting and fundamentally sound play led the Park Rapids baseball team to a 17-5 record in Mark Juberian's first season as head coach.

Solid pitching, timely hitting and fundamentally sound play led the Park Rapids baseball team to a 17-5 record in Mark Juberian's first season as head coach.

Juberian is counting on that same combination to lead the Panthers to another successful season this spring.

A year ago, the Panthers batted .307 as a team and averaged 8.2 runs a game with a team ERA of 2.43. With the nucleus of that team back, the Panthers have the ingredients to challenge for Mid-State Conference and Section 8AA titles.

"Our expectations are high," said Juberian, who will be assisted by Ron MacLeod, Bob Kapsner and Pete Stahnke. "We expect to compete with everyone on our schedule and compete for the section title at the end of the year."

Leading the Panthers this season are 11 players who saw varsity action last season: seniors Josh Burlingame, Rocky Donatelle, Brandon May, Jed Ryan and Nick Stenberg; juniors Chris Bruhn, Brandon Gartner and Doug Haas; and sophomores Grant Dierkhis-ing, Tom Juberian and Zach Lehrke. Stenberg earned Mid-State Conference honors while Dona-telle and Bruhn were all-conference honorable mention players as the Panthers tied for second place in the conference with a 10-4 record.


Stenberg, Dierkhising and Lehrke all batted above .325. Stenberg batted .391 (27 for 69) with 27 runs and 23 RBI. Stenberg had 15 extra-base hits, including nine doubles, three triples and three home runs. Dierkhising finished the season with a .339 average (20 for 59) with 14 runs and 13 RBI. Lehrke batted .326 (15 for 46) with 10 runs and seven RBI.

Donatelle hit .279 (12 for 43) with seven runs and four RBI. Bruhn had a .188 average (6 for 32) with three runs and 10 RBI. May hit .167 (5 for 24) with four runs and three RBI. Ryan batted .120 (3 for 25) with four runs and three RBI.

Also contributing offensively were Haas (2 for 6 with two runs and two RBI), Juberian (3 for 12 with five runs and one RBI), Burlingame (1 for 6 with five runs and one RBI) and Gartner (1 for 11 with four runs).

The Panthers return their top pitchers, led by Gartner (4-0 with a 1.68 ERA), Stenberg (3-1 with a 1.15 ERA), Donatelle (3-1 with a 2.36 ERA), Bruhn (3-1 with a 2.37 ERA) and May (2-1 with a 3.00 ERA). Gartner pitched 33 1/3 innings, allowing 27 hits and eight earned runs with 12 walks and 25 strikeouts. Stenberg gave up 15 hits and four earned runs in 24 1/3 innings with 15 walks and 27 strikeouts. Donatelle pitched 29 2/3 innings, allowing 22 hits and 10 earned runs with 10 walks and 17 strikeouts. Bruhn walked 13 and struck out 28 while allowing 24 hits and nine earned runs in 26 1/3 innings. May pitched 14 innings and gave up 15 hits and six earned runs with six walks and 13 strikeouts.

Juberian (0-0, 0.00 ERA in two innings) and Ryan (0-0, 0.00 ERA in one inning) will provide depth on the mound.

Looking to help fill the spots left by the graduation of center fielder Noah Berglund (.305 average, 28 runs), catcher Brent Brattlof (.400 average, 23 RBI, 19 runs), second baseman Eric Schmid (.423 average, 28 RBI, 30 runs) and first baseman Zachary Wolff (.200 average) are junior Jacob Hansen and sophomores Eli Donatelle and Kyle Blanchard.

Defensivley, the Panthers will have Lehrke and Bruhn catching; Stenberg, Burlingame, May, Gartner, Haas, Lehrke, Dierkhising, Eli Donatelle and Blanchard in the outfield; and Rocky Donatelle (third base), Burlingame (first base), May (first base), Ryan (second base, shortstop), Hansen (second base), Bruhn (first base, third base), Juberian (second base, shortstop) and Dierkhising (shortstop) in the infield.

"We're going to be a pretty solid defensive team. We have a lot of pitchers and all of our pitchers have varsity experience," said Juberian. "Offensively I think we'll be OK. We'll be able to put the ball in play, move runners around and play fundamental baseball. Nick, Grant and Zach all hit over .300 last year, but we'll need production from other guys. We'll need some kids to step up this year."


A year ago, the Panthers were the No. 1 seed in subsection 3 for the Section 8AA tournament. Perham ended the Panthers' quest for a trip to the section semifinals with a 4-0 win in the second round of the playoffs. Perham defeated the Panthers three times and Detroit Lakes handed Park Rapids its other two losses last season.

This spring, Juberian is looking for his team to challenge for the conference title, advance further in the playoffs and make a run at a state tournament berth.

"We're going to play good, fundamental baseball and take it one pitch and one game at a time," said Juberian. "We went 17-5 last year, but this is a new season. We're going to focus on improving on that. Our long-term goal is to get to the state tournament."

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