Baseball: Park Rapids looking to pitch, hit way to a winning record

The Panthers set out to improve on last year's 8-13 mark.

Providing the leadership for the Park Rapids baseball team for the 2023 season will be seniors (from left) Hunter Harrison, Mason Yliniemi, Ethan Eischens, Lucas Kritzeck and Ben Roos.
Vance Carlson / Park Rapids Enterprise

With another delayed start to the season, head coach Kevin Murphy is counting on a surplus of pitchers to help produce a winning record for the Park Rapids baseball team.

“This season we have made it a goal to take another step in our program. Last season we didn’t play our first game until April 28 and we condensed our season to one month of baseball. With pitch count limits that can be a real challenge,” said Murphy. “We finished the season at 8-13 last year and we want to finish above .500 this season winning at least 11 games. Based on our current weather, we may be bunching up games this season as well, but we feel confident that we have the pitching to handle the challenge.”

The Panthers return seven players who started games last spring. That group features seniors Ethan Eischens and Mason Yliniemi; juniors Matt Johanning, Noah Larson, Noah Morris and Sawyer Torkelson; and sophomore DJ Clark. Eischens is back at first base, Yliniemi returns in center field and Torkelson will return as the starting catcher while Johanning, Larson and Morris will start at the other infield positions. Clark will be counted on to lead the pitching staff. Morris received Section 8AA honors while Eischens was an all-conference player last season.

Morris led the team with a .346 batting average (19 for 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. Eischens batted .288 (15-52) with nine runs and eight RBI. Larson hit .281 (16-57) with eight runs and five RBI. Johanning hit .154 (2-13). Clark batted .077 (1-13).

Clark (2-3 record) returns as the top pitcher with Morris (1-2 record), Torkelson (1-1 record), Larson (1-0 record) and Eischens (0-0 record) also returning after seeing time on the mound last spring.


Looking to replace last year’s senior crew of Isaiah Olson (shortstop/pitcher), Jaxson Lund (second base/shortstop), Kobe Burton (catcher) and Nick Michaelson (third base) are seniors Hunter Harrison, Lucas Kritzeck and Ben Roos; juniors Anthony Tyge, Eli Burton, Mason Tollefson and Quinn Hoscheid; and sophomores Isaac Jensen, Mason Nisius, Cooper Burkman, Tyler Officer, Seth Trumble and Peter Carroll. There are also 17 freshmen out who could fill in spots during the season.

“One thing that we pride ourselves on as a team is our versatility. We can plug guys into positions all over the field and they can compete. Without having practices outside yet, it's hard to know where everyone will shake out position-wise, but we are excited about our returning players,” said Park Rapids head coach Kevin Murphy. “I’m excited to see what our other juniors and sophomores can do to contribute to our team this year. We have 17 freshmen coming into the program this year. As a coaching staff we have some high expectations of these young men and will need some of them to step up and help fill in our varsity depth this year. We have seen some good things in our preseason and we know this group is capable of playing at a high level, so we are excited to see them progress this season.”

Last season, Aitkin and Detroit Lakes shared the Mid-State 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 won the section title and was the state Class AA runner-up.

The Panthers have four starting spots to replace, but Murphy is hoping his team can contend for both the Mid-State and Section 8AA titles this spring.

“There are three keys to our season this year. First, we have to hit. We struggled last year putting together at-bats and scoring runs. We have to hit better this season. Second, we need to have efficient pitching with our pitchers attacking the strike zone and throwing strikes. And third, we need some of our freshmen and sophomores to step up their roles for the varsity level. The depth of our younger players is solid, but they will need to meet some high expectations this season,” said Murphy. “Our conference and our section continue to be one of the toughest around. Roseau took second in the state last year. Other teams in our subsection that will be tough are Perham, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, East Grand Forks and Thief River Falls. There is no doubt about it, we have a gauntlet to run in our subsection and our section. Our conference isn’t any easier. Aitkin and Pequot Lakes consistently perform well in baseball and Staples-Motley has certainly been a tough team in recent years. We will have our work cut out for us this season, but we are ready to work hard and compete against some of the best that the state has to offer. I expect us to be in the mix of the final teams in our subsection this season. Our goal is to make it to the final four teams remaining in our section and play our best baseball at that time of the season. Once you make it that far, anything can happen.”


April 21 – vs. Staples-Motley (2) at Gustavus Adolphus, 9 a.m. April 25 – vs. Detroit Lakes (2), 4 p.m.

May 2 – vs. Pequot Lakes (2), 4 p.m. May 3 – vs. Thief River Falls at Bemidji State, 1 p.m; vs. East Grand Forks at Bemidji State, 3 p.m. May 8 – at Menahga (2) 4 p.m. May 9 – at Crosby-Ironton (2), 4 p.m. May 12 – at Hawley, 5 p.m. May 16 – at Perham, 4:30 p.m. May 18 – vs. Fergus Falls, 4:30 p.m. May 22 – at Crookston, 4:30 p.m.

1982 Dawson-Boyd High School graduate
1987 Moorhead State University graduate
Sports reporter for Park Rapids Enterprise since 1987
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