Mark Waller thought the Park Rapids baseball team had the potential to produce a winning season in his first year as head coach.

     Committing too many errors in the field and giving up too many walks prevented the Panthers from accomplishing that goal. However, despite making 69 errors and putting another 103 runners on base via walks and hit batters, the Panthers were competitive in every game in finishing with an 11-11 overall record.

     For the season, the Panthers hit .348 as a team while averaging 7.5 runs a game. Park Rapids also had a respectable 3.41 team ERA as opponents hit only .201 against the pitching staff. However, errors led to 55 unearned runs, which proved costly as the Panthers lost six games by one run.

     “When it comes right down to it, most games are decided by who can do the fundamentals most successfully. When we played good defense and threw strikes, we won. When we gave the other team extra outs and extra base runners, we lost,” said Waller. “We hit and pitched as well as anyone, so we were in every game. But when you have 69 errors and 89 walks, you are bound to lose more games than you feel you should.”

     The Panthers opened the season by winning the consolation title at the Park Rapids Invitational with a 5-4 loss to Hawley, a 10-4 win over Wheaton and a 12-11 victory over Menahga. Park Rapids had five errors that led to four unearned runs in the loss the Hawley, seven errors that led to four unearned runs against Wheaton and three errors that led to three unearned runs against Menahga. The Panthers used 14 hits to defeat Wheaton and 12 hits to defeat Menahga.

     Six errors led to five unearned runs in a 10-7 loss to Pelican Rapids before the Panthers swept Wadena-Deer Creek 8-4 and 6-5 in the Mid-State Conference opener. Park Rapids overcame seven errors and four unearned runs by belting out 13 hits in the first game against W-DC while overcoming two errors that led to three unearned runs in the second game.

     Detroit Lakes swept a pair of conference games by taking advantage of four errors to score three unearned runs in a 6-5 victory in the first game and capitalizing on nine errors to score seven unearned runs in an 8-1 win in the second game.

     Park Rapids dominated Crosby-Ironton for a pair of conference wins as 26 hits sparked a pair of five-inning victories by scores of 10-0 and 12-2.

     Pequot Lakes pulled off a pair of close conference victories with wins of 6-5 and 5-4 before the Panthers produced a pair of five-inning wins over Staples-Motley as 25 hits led to the sweep by scores of 13-3 and 17-4.

     Three errors resulted in three unearned runs as Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton edged the Panthers 4-2. The Panthers rebounded from that loss to rout Thief River Falls 17-3 in six innings.

     Perham closed out the conference schedule by sweeping the Panthers by scores of 7-0 and 16-5 in five innings as six errors gave the Yellowjackets nine unearned runs. Park Rapids managed only seven hits in those two games.

     Detroit Lakes won the conference title with an 11-1 record while Perham finished at 10-1-1. Pequot Lakes took third with an 8-3-1 record while the Panthers were fourth at 6-6. Wadena-Deer Creek (4-8), Staples-Motley (2-10) and Crosby-Ironton (0-12) followed.

     The Panthers closed out the regular season with a 7-4 win over Bagley for a 10-9 record. Going 1-7 against Section 8AA teams (defeating Thief River Falls and losing to Hawley, Pelican Rapids, Detroit Lakes twice, D-G-F and Perham twice) gave Park Rapids the No. 6 seed in the north for the section playoffs.

     The Panthers opened the section tournament with a 9-0 win over No. 3 Thief River Falls before being eliminated with a 6-5 loss to No. 2 Crookston and a 10-9 loss to No. 4 Roseau. Four errors led to five unearned runs in the loss to Crookston while Roseau took advantage of an error to score four times in the bottom of the seventh inning to end the Panthers’ season.

     D-G-F defeated Hawley for the section title.

     “We ended up the season 11-11, but I felt we were really close to having a very good season. We were 2-6 in one-run games and the other five games we lost were filled with unearned runs when the wheels came off,” said Waller. “At the start of the season I thought we could win 15 games and compete for the conference championship. Our two wins against Thief River Falls were good examples about how well we could play, but we just were not able to put it together for a stretch of games. D-G-F went to state and we lost to them 4-2 and Hawley was second in the section and we lost 5-4 to them, so we were very competitive. I was pleased about how the guys played and how they stayed positive throughout the season. They knew they could make a run and the potential to really play well was always there.”

     Leading the Panthers this season were seniors Jon Burlingame, Derek Porozinski, Jordan McCollum and Riley Massie; juniors Matt Bade, Damion Hanke and Connor Byer; and sophomores Chase Brand, Sam Eystad, Jared Sunram, Ben Garcelon, Kenny David and Cole Rossman.

     Burlingame and Porozinski received all-conference honors while Brand earned Section 8AA honors and all-conference honorable mention honors.

     Brand was named the Panthers’ Most Valuable Player after leading the team with a .523 batting average (34 hits in 65 at bats), 26 runs scored and 15 stolen bases in 20 games. Brand also had five doubles, four triples and 16 RBI as the starting shortstop and lead-off hitter. Brand also went 1-0 with a 2.33 ERA in six pitching appearances. Brand allowed 19 hits and 10 runs (five earned) with five walks and 12 strikeouts in 15 innings. Brand also received the team’s Golden Glove award.

     Burlingame started in right field in 22 games and hit .423 (30 for 71) with 22 runs and a team-leading 33 RBI. Burlingame also led the team with seven doubles, five triples and two home runs and went 1-0 in his only pitching appearance. Burlingame received the team’s Silver Slugger award.

     Porozinski batted .424 (28 for 66) with 25 runs, six doubles, nine stolen bases and 18 RBI in 22 games as the starter in center field. Porozinski also led the team with 34 innings pitched, going 3-3 with a 2.26 ERA. In seven appearances, Porozinski allowed 19 hits and 22 runs (11 earned) with 26 walks and 39 strikeouts. Porozinski received the team’s Panther Award for leadership.

     McCollum hit .370 (27 for 73) with 17 runs, six doubles, nine stolen bases and 15 RBI in 22 games at shortstop and second base and went 1-5 with a 4.16 ERA in seven pitching appearances. McCollum allowed 25 hits and 35 runs (19 earned) with 27 walks and 22 strikeouts in 32 innings of work.

     Massie batted .358 (19 for 5) with 19 runs and 10 RBI in 17 games as the starter in left field. Massie also made five pitching appearances, allowing four hits and three runs (two earned) with four walks and eight strikeouts in nine innings for a 1.56 ERA.

     Bade was the starter at third base in 22 games, hitting .355 (22 for 62) with 15 runs and 14 RBI. Bade also pitched 5.2 innings in three appearances on the mound, going 1-0 with a 7.41 ERA. Bade allowed nine hits and seven runs (six earned) with four walks and five strikeouts.

     Hanke started at first base in all 22 games, batting .309 (21 for 68) with 12 runs and 15 RBI while Byer started 20 games at catcher, hitting .267 (12 for 45) with six runs and six RBI. Byer also went 1-0 in two pitching appearances, giving up five hits and seven earned runs with two walks and four strikeouts in 3.2 innings.

     Eystad made eight pitching appearances, going 3-1 with a 2.82 ERA and one save. In 22.1 innings, Eystad gave up 18 hits and 16 runs (nine earned) with 12 walks and 11 strikeouts. Eystad also hit .100 (2 for 20) with two runs and five RBI. Eystad received the team’s Rookie of the Year award.

     Garcelon made five pitching appearances, going 0-2 with a 2.56 ERA in 13.2 innings. Garcelon allowed 18 hits and 19 runs (five earned) with four walks and 16 strikeouts. Garcelon also batted .167 (4 for 24) with eight runs.

     Filling in at second base and the outfield were Sunram, Rossman and David. Sunram played in 12 games and batted .231 (6 for 26) with four runs and five RBI and received the team’s Most Improved Player award. Rossman played in 10 games and hit .200 (3 for 15) with six runs and two RBI. David played in eight games and batted .167 (2 for 12) with three runs and two RBI.

     Also seeing some varsity time were sophomores Riley Cannon and Justin Dravis and freshman Cypren Hjermstad.

     “As we look ahead to next year, we have a lot of young talent coming up. Our eighth grade team had a very good year going 13-5 and our JV team had a solid year going 9-6 with many players who will be looking to replace our seniors,” said Waller. “We will miss our seniors and we will need some more pitchers and hitters to step up and take their place. We will be young with only three seniors returning, but we should be able to have a good season next spring. I expect us to be right in the mix again next year and be able to be competitive with every team we play.”