Six seniors will provide leadership for Panthers
With six seniors returning to the starting lineup, head coach Dan Etter is expecting another successful season from the Park Rapids baseball team.
Returning to lead the Panthers from last year's team that finished second in the Mid-State Conference standings with a 7-3 record and posted a 13-8 overall mark are seniors Gabe Bagstad, Lucas Dickinson, Cameron Hoyt, Ty Karger, Brendan Kruchowski and Tristin Persons. Kruchowski and Persons received all-conference honors last season with Persons being named the team's Most Valuable Player.
Persons returns as the starting catcher after batting .329 (23 for 70 with three doubles) with a team-leading 31 stolen bases and 25 runs scored with nine RBI in 21 games. Persons also went 1-0 as a pitcher.
Kruchowski also started all 21 games and will play first base when not pitching this season. Kruchowski batted .333 (22 for 66 with seven doubles) last season and led the team with 17 RBI while scoring 16 runs. Kruchowski also had a 4-1 record as a pitcher.
Karger returns to the outfield after batting .288 (19 for 66, including two doubles) with 14 runs and 13 RBI in 21 games last season. Karger will also pitch this season.
Bagstad will return to shortstop when not pitching after going 4-2 on the mound and hitting .241 (14 for 58, including three doubles) with 13 RBI, 10 runs scored and eight steals in 21 games.
Hoyt batted .273 (6 for 22) with four runs and two RBI as a part-time starter at second base. Hoyt played in 12 games last season.
Dickinson was a part-time starter at third base and designated hitter, hitting .250 (8 for 32) with five runs and three RBI in 11 games. Dickinson will also see some time on the mound.
The Panthers have six spots to fill with the graduation of Jason Haas (.420 average, 13 runs scored, 11 stolen bases, eight RBI as the starter at shortstop, second base and center field), Zach Hocking (.375 average, nine runs, nine RBI at first base and a 1-0 record as a pitcher), Austin Jerger (.338 average, 13 runs, 13 RBI at an outfielder, catcher and designated hitter), Will Pickar (.375 average and a 1-1 record as a pitcher and right fielder), Zach Severtson (.250 average, 15 runs, six RBI in center field and 2-0 record as a pitcher) and Chantz DeWinter (.222 average, four runs in right field and second base). Haas and Jerger earned all-conference honors while Hocking was an all-conference honorable mention selection.
Looking to fill the other starting spots and provide depth off the bench are juniors Jens Anderson, Hunter Carnell, Tanner Hensel, Gabe Arola and Joey Stachowski; and sophomores Brody Hagen, Alex Niemela, Caleb David, Cole Ackerman, Chaise Persons and Joshua Crandall.
"We return six seniors with considerable varsity experience," said Etter, who will be assisted by TJ Erickson and J.T. Luther. "We have a lot of underclassmen that do not have much varsity experience that are going to need to step up and play a big role for us this year. It's going to take time and patience to sort out who the nine starters are going to be."
Last season, Pequot Lakes captured the conference title with an 8-2 mark while Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton defeated Wadena-Deer Creek 6-5 in the Section 8AA championship game. Park Rapids earned the No. 3 seed in the North for the section tournament and defeated Roseau (5-0) and East Grand Forks (10-4) before being eliminated in the playoffs with losses to D-G-F (10-1) and Perham (4-1).
Led by the six seniors, Etter is expecting the Panthers to once again challenge for the conference title and make another strong showing in the section playoffs.
"We have high expectations. We are eager to get out on the field and play some games," said Etter. "We have a very competitive section and we will have to perform at a high level. This group of seniors has been knocked out of the playoffs in the semifinals two years in a row and are determined to do better than last year. Everyone has a role on the team and if everyone does their job, I feel we can attain our goal."
April 16 - at Pequot Lakes (2), 4 p.m. April 18 - vs. Crookston, 4:30 p.m. April 23 - vs. Crosby-Ironton (2), 4 p.m. April 25 - at Wadena-Deer Creek, 4:30 p.m. April 30 - at Aitkin 92), 4 p.m.
May 2 - at Detroit Lakes (2), 4 p.m. May 7 - vs. Staples-Motley (2), 4 p.m. May 9 - vs. East Grand Forks, 4:30 p.m. May 14 - vs. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, 5 p.m. May 17 - at Frazee, 4:30 p.m. May 23 - vs. Bagley, 4:30 p.m.