Rian Struss is holding down first base for the Pine River-Backus Tigers.

The sophomore started his season going 5-9 with four RBIs and four runs scored as PR-B started the season 4-0.

After a two-year break and playing in his first varsity games, Struss wanted to be confident when he stepped into the batter’s box.

“It was really exciting to get out there with the boys,” he said. “It feels good to hit the ball hard and things were just going my way I guess.”

Tigers’ head coach Michael Dinnel said even as a sophomore Struss is stepping up as a leader for PR-B.

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“It’s shown in not only what he says, but his actions,” Dinnel said. “At the plate, he’s been super aggressive which is a little different, but he’s been attacking pitchers instead of letting pitchers attack him.”

Dinnel described Struss’ approach as not trying to work a count, but he has a plan at the plate.

“We’ve spent a ton of time in the cage of course with the weather,” Dinnel said. “We’ve talked a lot about scouting ourselves and finding out what pitches he can hit hard and what pitches are we struggling with and he’s really taken to that and he’s not looking to take a walk.”

The defense Struss plays at first base hasn’t gone unnoticed by Dinnel either.

“He’s giving our whole defense confidence,” Dinnel said. “Maybe I’m biased because I played first base, but I just think it’s one of those positions that gets overlooked. You don’t know things are bad until you aren’t catching balls at first base or you are missing the routine. So, Rian is great at making the easy play and stretching and he’s a smart, smart player. He knows when he needs to make a play and when to come off the bag. So it’s good we have a smart player, but also a player that everyone is confident in throwing too.”

Struss said he missed last season playing with his friends. He feels he improved the most in his hitting during the gap year.

“Just being able to catch up to fastballs,” he said. “I just want to go out there and put the stick on it. Just keeping it simple with a nice short swing.”

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His swing and confidence are the biggest improvements Dinnel sees.

“He’s taken the coaching and gone from a junior high looping swing into a compact structured swing,” Dinnel said.

The start Struss has been on gives the whole PR-B team a boost.

“We’ve had some other people in the lineup that have struggled early on,” Dinnel said. “When you have others struggling you need someone to step up and him hitting the way he’s hitting has allowed us to do some things and allow us to score some runs.”

A three-sport athlete at PR-B, Struss’ favorite is basketball because it's the sport he’s played the longest.

He does enjoy playing first base.

“I just like receiving the ball,” Struss said. “And fielding the ball sometimes. It’s a lot of digging balls out of the dirt and staying on your feet.”

Struss wasn’t the only Tiger to turn in a good first week as two PR-B pitchers, Ryder Compton and Trevor Redding, pitched well in PR-B’s doubleheader sweep of Lake of the Woods.

“We were just out there having fun,” Struss said. “It was fun to get out there again. It builds everyone’s confidence.”

For most of the sophomores on the Tigers’ roster, last week was their first taste of varsity baseball. Dinnel thinks what helped Struss is that he’s been playing varsity in other sports like basketball since he was an eighth grader.

“That has kind of helped him understand the expectations,” Dinnel said. “Rian is not overwhelmed by the moment because he loves sports and is confident in himself. That group of kids and his grade when they were eighth graders two years ago were able to participate in summer ball which isn’t always the case for us at that age level.”

Moving forward, Dinnel really likes the sophomore class with Struss being one of the main leaders of that group.

“There’s a good nucleus there with some talent and some kids who are on the cusp,” Dinnel said. “But what really shows is that they love sports and sports are meaningful to them.”

Other notable performances:
Golf: Logan Herold, Pierz, tied for individual medalist at Pierz Municipal.
Beck Erholtz, Staples-Motley, was the individual medalist with an even-par round at Lakeview Golf Course
Baseball: Hunter Hills, Aitkin, finished 2-3 with a double and three runs scored against Pillager.
Ryder Compton, Pine River-Backus, threw a one-hitter against Lake of the Woods with seven strikeouts.
Trevor Redding, Pine River-Backus, struck out nine against Lake of the Woods.
Kobe Hinzmann, Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale, tallied four RBIs and a double against Browerville.
Blake Clark, Pillager, tallied two RBIs against Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale.
Gabe Grimsley, Pillager, tallied two hits and two RBIs against Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale.
Ryan Stuckmayer, Pierz, tallied three hits and three runs on the week.
Zach Shaw, Wadena-Deer Creek, went 3-5 with a double, two RBIs and three runs against Parkers Prairie.
Connor Zender, Crosby-Ironton, went 2-3 with a double, a home run, three runs and four RBIs against Moose Lake-Willow River.
Track and Field: Aiden Bryniaraki, Verndale, won the 100, 200 and 400 meter dashes in the Wadena Invite.
Jonathan Cheney, Pierz, won the 100 and 300 hurdles as well as the high jump in the Foley Invite.

Rian Struss

Year: Sophomore

School: Pine River-Backus

Sport: Baseball

Position: First base

Highlights: Finished 5-9, with four RBIs and four runs scored last week.