As coach of the Class 1A runner-up last season, Parkers Prairie's Derek Denny acknowledged that team was missing a piece of the puzzle.
"We got excellent pitching and played excellent defense, but we knew coming in to this year that hitting was the area we wanted to focus on," Denny said.
The Panthers made hitting a priority, and it paid off with a state championship as they defeated Legacy Christian 6-3 to win the Class 1A baseball title Monday at Target Field.
"We can all hit," said sophomore Travis Yohnke, who had two of the Panthers' nine hits, including a run-scoring triple in the third inning. "That's something we work on all the time. Whether it's rainy or we're outside, hitting off a tee, you name it."
Legacy Christian starter Josh Peterson set down the Panthers 1-2-3 in the first inning but struggled after that, giving up single runs in the second and third, three in the fourth and another in the fifth.
"They battled. Every pitch, they battled," Peterson said. "They're probably one of the best-hitting teams we've ever faced."
Meanwhile, Parkers Prairie starter Levi Arnold wasn't blowing away the Lions' lineup, but he didn't have to. Legacy Christian, based in Andover, put runners on base in each of the first five innings, but didn't break through until the fifth, trailing 6-0.
"We got those runs right away that helped us out," said Arnold, who pitched a complete game, giving up three runs on six hits, walking two and striking out five. "They were getting me runs on the offensive side, I needed to do my part on the defensive side."
Said Denny, "He's got a good defense behind him. The biggest thing for him is to throw strikes and let those guys work. Once you do that, good things usually happen for us."
Denny said the experience of a year ago paid big dividends this year.
"Every single game at the state tournament was different [than last year]," Denny said. "Our pitchers were focused, the guys were loose. They were really zoned in. It definitely had a different feel."