Three Panthers playing professional baseball
By Kevin Eckleberry
When the LaGrange College Panthers were eliminated from the NCAA Division III baseball tournament, it was the final college game for an outstanding group of seniors that included Blake Butcher, Blane Swift and Jonathan Fleckenstein.
Those three men aren’t done with the sport, though.
The three former Panthers have headed west to become a part of the California-based Pecos League, and they’re playing for the High Desert Yardbirds.
While Swift and Butcher made their debuts over the weekend, Fleckenstein has yet to play in a game for the Yardbirds.
The Pecos League began in 2011, and it is an independent, professional league that features 12 teams split into two six-team divisions.
Swift and Butcher both played in their first professional game on Saturday, and they helped the Yardbirds pummel the Hollywood Stars 17-0.
Swfit had a hit, two walks, two RBIs and two runs scored, and Butcher had a hit in two at-bats.
Butcher, Swift and Fleckenstein each had remarkable senior seasons for the Panthers, who went 40-6 and won the regular-season and tournament championships in the USA South.
Butcher, a second-team All-American player, hit .342 and led the team with seven home runs and 50 RBIs.
Butcher was a two-year starter for the Panthers, and he was the USA South player of the year in 2016.
Swift was second on the team with a .375 batting average, and he hit five home runs and 31 RBIs.
Swift, who along with Butcher and Fleckenstein was a member of the D3baseball.com All-South region team, was also a two-year starter for the Panthers after transferring from West Georgia Tech.
Fleckenstein was one of the country’s top relief pitchers.
The right-hander was 6-1 with five saves and a 1.75 earned run average.
Fleckenstein played at LaGrange College for four seasons, and the 1.75 ERA he had this spring was his highest over the past three seasons.
The Yardbirds’ season continues through the end of July.