Panthers looking ahead to 2018

Published 6:31 pm Sunday, June 11, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

LAGRANGE – The show goes on.

When the LaGrange College Panthers were eliminated from the NCAA Division III baseball playoffs, it put an end to a spectacular season.

The Panthers went 40-6 while breaking the program’s record for wins in a season, they won the regular season and tournament championships in the USA South, they were ranked first in Division III for about a month, and they won two games in the NCAA tournament.

The bulk of the players responsible for last season’s success were seniors, which means the 2018 team will have a drastically different look.

That’s the nature of collegiate sports, though.

Players come and players go, and the successful programs find a way to keep on rolling no matter who is wearing the uniform.

LaGrange College head coach David Kelton is hoping his program has reached the point where it can withstand the loss of some key players, although that will clearly be a challenge.

There were 15 seniors on the roster, and most of them either started or were key contributors, and that included seven players who were either all-American or all-region players.

“It’s going to be a challenge to replace those guys, and in some ways you can’t,” Kelton said. “But what we’ll do is we’ll fill those holes with guys that might play a little different, but they’ll still get the job done, just maybe in a different way.”

Not everyone is leaving.

Among the returnees is James Poropatic, who hit .373 last season while driving in 29 runs, and Billy Peatross, who hit .286 with 23 RBIs.

Also coming back is pitcher Richie Post, who was 4-2 with a 3.05 earned run average, as well as ace relief pitchers Austin Perez (1-0, 1.31 ERA) and Austin Brown (3-0, 2.25 ERA).

The reality, though, is that seven of the nine men who were in the starting lineup for the Panthers’ final game were seniors, as were three of the four top starting pitchers as well as the number one reliever.

While many of next season’s starters could be players already in the program, Kelton and the other coaches are busy this summer on the recruiting trail as they look to build the roster.

Kelton looks at recent high-school graduates, as well as players already in college.

Some of the top players on last season’s team were transfers from other schools.

“It’s huge,” Kelton said of the recruiting process. “We’re trying to finish off this recruiting class for this year coming up. Right now, coach (Scott) Mularz is on the road recruiting for next year’s class. So the summer is real big in terms of trying to finish up your class.”

Nick Beamenderfer, who has been an assistant coach at LaGrange College for three seasons, is looking forward to the challenges the new season will bring.

“It’ll be a fun experience next year, too,” he said. “We’ll have some young cubs. I’m excited to see that, too.”