Baseball: Late-season slump resulted Park Rapids' 8-13 record
The Panthers tied for fourth place in the Mid-State Conference standings.
PARK RAPIDS – Midway through the season, the Park Rapids baseball team was on track to becoming one of the top teams in Section 8AA.
A seven-game losing streak to end the regular season ended that bid.
The Panthers began the season with an 8-5 record before losing the final eight games to miss out on hosting a playoff game and finishing with an 8-13 record.
Park Rapids opened the season with a Mid-State Conference split against Staples-Motley (winning 5-3 and losing 4-0), a conference sweep over Crosby-Ironton (winning 17-4 and 11-1 in a pair of five-inning games that featured 29 hits), and a pair of conference losses to Pequot Lakes (6-5 in nine innings and 10-0). After a 7-5 win over Thief River Falls, Park Rapids lost a conference doubleheader to Detroit Lakes (11-0 in five innings and 7-2).
A four-game winning streak followed as the Panthers shut out Hill City/Northland 13-0 in five innings and Pine River-Backus 11-0 in five innings before sweeping Frazee by scores of 9-5 and 7-6 in eight innings.
An offensive slump to end the regular season prevented the Panthers from attaining one of their season goals of hosting a playoff game.
Park Rapids was shut out in its next five games, falling to Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (8-0), Aitkin in a pair of conference games (8-0 and 4-0), Crookston (11-0) and Perham (10-0 in six innings). The Panthers managed only 17 hits in those five games. Two losses to Menahga (4-2 and 8-3) closed out the regular season.
Aitkin and Detroit Lakes shared the conference title with 9-1 records while Pequot Lakes ended at 5-5. Staples-Motley joined the Panthers at 3-7 while Crosby-Ironton finished at 1-9.
Going 3-5 against Section 8AA teams gave the Panthers the No. 5 seed for the playoffs. The season ended with a 5-4 loss at No. 4 Warroad. Roseau defeated Perham 3-2 in the section championship game and ended the season with a 7-0 loss to Fairmont in the state Class AA title game.
“We had high hopes for this season. We wanted to get into the mix of the top teams in our section and we fell a little short of that goal,” said Park Rapids head coach Kevin Murphy, whose team went 3-7 in the conference and 7-16 overall last season. “At the beginning of the season, I told the team our goal was to improve on last season, finish with more wins and make a run at the playoff tournament. We did finish with more wins, but unfortunately we lost in the first round of the playoffs to Warroad.”
Leading the way for the Panthers, who hit. 281 as a team, were seniors Isaiah Olson (shortstop), Jaxson Lund (second baseman, shortstop), Kobe Burton (catcher) and Nick Michaelson (third baseman); juniors Ethan Eischens (first baseman) and Mason Yliniemi (outfielder, catcher); sophomores Matthew Johanning (outfielder), Noah Larson (outfielder), Noah Morris (infielder, outfielder) and Sawyer Torkelson (catcher, outfielder); and freshman DJ Reichling (outfielder).
Morris led the team with a .346 batting average (19-55) with 10 runs scored and 10 RBI. Yliniemi hit .310 (18-58) with 10 runs and six RBI. Torkelson batted .298 (14-47) with eight runs and eight RBI. Olson batted .297 (19-64) with 15 runs and 14 stolen bases. Lund hit .290 (18-62) with 14 runs, 11 RBI and six steals. Eischens batted .288 (15-52) with nine runs and eight RBI. Larson hit .281 (16-57) with eight runs and five RBI. Burton batted .278 (10-36) with six runs. Michaelson batted .241 (14-58) with nine runs and five RBI. Johanning hit .154 (2-13). Reichling batted .077 (1-13).
The pitching staff consisted of Olson (3-3 record, one save), Reichling (2-3 record), Morris (1-2 record), Lund (0-3 record), Torkelson (1-1 record), Larson (1-0 record), Michaelson (0-1 record) and Eischens (0-0 record).
Morris received Section 8AA honors while Lund and Eischens were all-conference players. Team awards went to Olson (Cy Young Award for best ERA and Dirtbag Award for most stolen bases), Morris (Silver Slugger for highest batting average and Most Improved), Lund (Gold Glove Award), and Torkelson and Reichling (Rookies of the Year).
Even though the Panthers will have four starting spots to replace, Murphy is looking for his team to continue improving and making a run to contend for the conference and section titles next spring.
“Our seniors will be missed. They made up almost our entire infield defensively and the heart of our offensive lineup. They helped us accomplish our goal of winning more games this season and taking our program one step further. I wish them all the best in their futures and thank them for their commitment to Panther Baseball,” said Murphy. “I continue to keep my expectations high for this program. There was a lot of growth that took place this season for our sophomore class and we found a great freshman pitcher that helped contribute to our win total this season. We have an incoming class of freshmen that is very talented and is going to push for playing time on the varsity field. Every year I tell my team to be better than the year before. Growth as a program is our goal and we will strive for a better record next season and a deeper playoff run.”