The new-look LaGrange College Panthers will leap into a new season today.
The Panthers, whose scheduled season opener on Wednesday was canceled because of the weather, will be on the road against Birmingham-Southern today.
It will be the collegiate debut for a number of players as the Panthers look to replace 14 key seniors from last year’s team.
“Everybody came in knowing that just about every position on the field was wide open,” first-year head coach David Kelton said. “So whenever you have that going into the fall, when guys know there’s really nobody in front of them, there’s a lot of competition at each position. And it creates a good environment in practice because guys are just fighting for playing time.”
The Panthers do have some veterans, but most of the players who’ll be on the field today have precious little experience in college baseball, or in the case of the freshmen no experience at all.
“We’re a very young team. We’re going to get our experience on the go,” Kelton said. “Our guys will be thrown in the fire. That’s how they’re going to get their experience this year. We’re going to have to count on a lot of freshmen and sophomores to really contribute. We’ve got a few juniors and a couple of seniors that are going to contribute as well. But for the most part, we’re going to be a very young team that’s going to grow up as the season progresses.”
The Panthers have seven games on the schedule before the start of USA South play, and those games will be critical for the team, according to Kelton.
“I hope the weather allows us to play all these games before we get into conference play,” Kelton said. “The pitchers need the innings up on the mound. They need to get comfortable facing the hitters. And our hitters need to get at-bats. They need to get their eye on the ball and really get comfortable in the box. Defensively, you have to get into that game atmosphere so that you can figure out defensively what kind of team you are.”
The Panthers have been limited in practice because of the poor weather in recent weeks, but Kelton said the team is ready to get the season going.
“We’re at that point now where it’s time to get out on the field and really start competing,” Kelton said. “We’ve got some real good practice time in. The pitchers’ arms are at a good point. We’ve really been hammering the defensive side of it. And now it’s really time to go out and play, and execute, and see where we need to improve.”
The Panthers will make their home debut on Sunday with a doubleheader against Birmingham Southern, with the first game set for 2 p.m.
“Usually I’m not a huge fan of doubleheaders, just because of what it does to your pitching staff,” Kelton said. “But right now, I’m a big fan of doubleheaders because we need to get out on the baseball field.”