Positivity paid off as Panthers finished with 13-8 record
Head coach Dan Etter expected the Park Rapids baseball team to contend for the Mid-State Conference and Section 8AA titles this spring.
The Panthers fulfilled both expectations by finishing second in the conference and winning two games in the section playoffs in finishing with a 13-8 overall record.
The Panthers opened the season with an impressive 1-0 win over Wadena-Deer Creek as an error in the bottom of the seventh inning produced the only run in this battle of Section 8AA teams.
After dropping an 8-3 decision to section rival Perham and defeating Aitkin 8-7 in nine innings in the Mid-State Conference opener, Park Rapids was swept by Detroit Lakes (11-4 in eight innings and 6-5) in a conference doubleheader.
The Panthers responded with section wins over East Grand Forks (6-5 in eight innings) and Crookston (9-3) before dropping a 15-5 decision in six innings to Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton. Park Rapids then split a conference and section doubleheader with Staples-Motley (winning 9-2 and losing 9-6) before falling to Frazee 13-11 in another section game.
Park Rapids closed the regular season with a six-game winning streak by defeating Aitkin 7-5 in a make-up game, sweeping Pequot Lakes (1-0 and 5-2) in a conference and section doubleheader, blanking Bagley 12-0 in five innings, and sweeping Crosby-Ironton (12-4 and 13-4) in the conference and regular-season finales.
Pequot Lakes won the Mid-State title with an 8-2 record while the Panthers followed at 7-3. Detroit Lakes (6-4), Aitkin (3-6), Staples-Motley (3-6) and Crosby-Ironton (2-8) rounded out the conference standings.
Going 7-4 against section opponents gave the Panthers the No. 3 seed in the North for the Section 8AA tournament. Park Rapids defeated Roseau (the No. 6 seed in the North) 5-0 and East Grand Forks (the No. 2 seed in the North) 10-4 before being eliminated with a 10-1 loss to D-G-F (the No. 1 seed in the North) and a 4-1 loss to Perham (the No. 2 seed in the South). D-G-F edged W-DC 6-5 in the section title game.
"Overall, we had a great season," said Etter. "We let a couple games slip away, but baseball can be a funny game like that. We beat some really good baseball teams and were right there with the top teams in the section."
For the season, the Panthers averaged 6.4 runs a game while allowing 5.3 runs a game. Park Rapids hit .314 as a team with the pitching staff recording four shutouts as nine different pitchers figured in a decision.
Leading the Panthers this season were seniors Jason Haas, Zach Hocking, Austin Jerger, Will Pickar, Zach Severtson and Chantz DeWinter; and juniors Gabe Bagstad, Nathan David, Lucas Dickinson, Cameron Hoyt, Ty Karger, Brendan Kruchowski and Tristin Persons.
Haas, Jerger, Kruchowski and Persons earned all-conference honors while Hocking was an all-conference honorable mention selection. Hocking and Persons shared team MVP honors while Hocking (Mr. Offense), Persons (Mr. Defense), Kruchowski (Most Improved) and Karger (Most Determined) received the other team awards.
Haas led the Panthers with a .420 batting average (29 hits in 69 at bats, including three doubles) with 13 runs scored, 11 stolen bases and eight RBI. Haas started all 21 games at second base, shortstop and center field.
Hocking started 16 games at first base and batted .375 (21 for 56, including two doubles) with nine runs scored and nine RBI.
Jerger started 20 games in left field, right field, catcher and designated hitter and batted .338 (22 for 65, including four doubles and two home runs) with 13 runs scored and 13 RBI.
Kruchowski hit .333 (22 for 66, including a team-leading seven doubles) with a team-leading 17 RBI while scoring 16 runs. Kruchowski started all 21 games at third base and first base when not pitching.
Persons was the Panthers' starting catcher in all 21 games and hit .329 (23 for 70, including three doubles) while leading the team with 31 stolen bases and 25 runs scored. Persons also had nine RBI.
Karger also started all 21 games playing left field and right field and had a .288 batting average (19 for 66, including two doubles) with 14 runs scored and 13 RBI.
Severtson was the Panthers' starter in center field in all 21 games while hitting .250 (13 for 52, including a home run) with 15 runs scored and six RBI.
Bagstad started all 21 games at shortstop and pitcher and hit .241 (14 for 58, including three doubles) with 13 RBI, 10 runs scored and eight stolen bases.
Hoyt started 12 games at second base and batted .273 (6 for 22, including a double) with four runs scored and two RBI while Dickinson started 11 games at third base and as a designated hitter, batting .250 (8 for 32, including a double) with five runs and three RBI.
Pickar batted .375 (3 for 8) as a starter in six games at pitcher and right field. DeWinter started five games at right field and second base and batted .222 (2 for 9) with four runs and an RBI. David started five games at second base, third base, left field and right field and hit .083 (1 for 12) with two runs and one RBI.
Leading the pitching staff were Kruchowski (4-1 record), Bagstad (4-2), Severtson (2-0), Hocking (1-0), Persons (1-0) and Pickar (1-1).
"I credit the kids' work ethic and overall attitude for the success of our season. The players often talked about how well they got along. Every player had a positive attitude and it showed every game," said Etter. "Our team graduates six very solid seniors. Their leadership and energy will be missed. They were a great group of guys. However, we will have seven seniors next season, all with substantial amount of varsity playing time. There will be competition at some positions next year as we will need some of this year's juniors and sophomores to step up. Even though we lost several key players, there are several key players coming back and good players coming up through the program. The players and coaches have high expectations for next season. I feel that our team will be successful again next season."