Behind increased energy, Pirates beat Park Rapids, 16-9, for third straight win
Recently, Mitch Bakken gave his team a choice.
The Crookston baseball team, after a 5-2 start, was mired in a losing streak that would eventually stretch to seven games. The Pirates were passive at the plate, inconsistent in the field and quiet from the dugout.
Bakken, Crookston's coach, sees himself as that and not much more. He doesn't interpret cheerleading to be part of his job description.
In short, Bakken told his team if they wanted to turn things around, it was up to them to boost their energy.
"They're gonna have to decide how they're gonna play the rest of the year, not the coaches," he said. "They can win out the season ... or they can just mail it in. It's their season, not ours."
This week at least, the returns have been promising.
The Pirates used solid pitching, hitting and aggressive baserunning to beat Park Rapids, 16-9, Friday evening at Jim Karn Field in their final regular-season home game. The Section 8AA win over the Panthers came three days after a doubleheader sweep of East Grand Forks on Tuesday, one in which Bakken thought his team's energy was decidedly higher.
"I was worried that maybe it was just because we were winning," Bakken said. "But we were down against East Grand in that second game and the energy lulled a bit but then came back and we were still down. ... Right now, they're doing what they need to do."
Friday was far from a perfect performance. Crookston (8-9, 5-7 section) gave up 10 hits and committed five errors, meaning that only half of Park Rapids' runs were earned.
But in other areas, it showed who the Pirates can be at their best. They took advantage of a lack of control on the part of the Panthers' pitching staff, stealing 14 bases and reaching base 11 times via a walk or a hit-by-pitch.
Leadoff hitter Gunnar Gunderson was 3-for-4 and crossed the plate four times. Ethan Boll went 3-for-5 with three runs batted in and four steals. Ashton Larson went 2-for-4 at the plate with two RBIs. On the mound, Jack Doda gave up nine hits but still managed 5.2 innings, a crucial performance for a team playing its fourth game in five days.
"We're gonna make anything happen," Bakken said. "We were taking bases. We gotta manufacture, we gotta put the pressure on the defense. If we just sit and try and go station-to-station, it's not going to work. I want energy and I want guys ready to go and be aggressive out there and go 110 percent."
Asked if he noticed an increased sense of urgency from his team with the end of the regular season so near, Bakken said he hadn't really seen one so far. The Pirates, he's said throughout the year, are naturally a quieter team.
But even if they don't always explicitly say it, they understand it. During the middle of the losing streak, the players started a group chat with which they tried to hammer home the message to each other: their current performance wasn't acceptable.
"We spent a lot more time as a team talking to each other, and figuring it out and having fun, it really helps," Gunderson said. "... All of us, we said we need to figure it out, otherwise we're gonna end up having a horrible seed for the playoffs."
The win over Park Rapids (5-13, 2-5) essentially locked up the No. 5 seed in the Section 8AA North division for the Pirates, meaning that they more or less know their first playoff opponent. Thief River Falls/Goodridge (7-9, 6-4) swept Crookston in a doubleheader on May 7, and the teams will likely rematch in Thief River Falls the first week of June.
While there are benefits to knowing your opponent ahead of time, and Bakken likes the way his team matches up with the Prowlers, he doesn't really care who the Pirates play. What matters more is that his team appears back in stride and understands that this is the best time for them to find it.
"We're still making unexcused errors and things that we need to fix up, but other than that I think we're getting better," Larson said. "I think we're definitely ready for the playoffs and ready to keep our season going and alive."
UP NEXT: The Pirates will travel to Ada on Tuesday, May 25 for their final home game of the regular season, taking on Ada-Borup (9-6).
CROOKSTON 16, PARK RAPIDS 9
Park Rapids 0-1-3-1-1-3-0—9-10-3
- WP: Jack Doda (5.2 IP, 9 H, 9 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 0 K)
- LP: Brody Hagen (3.1 IP, 8 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 2 BB, 2 K)
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