Panthers ninth in preseason poll

Published 1:16 pm Friday, January 19, 2018

By Kevin Eckleberry

The LaGrange College Panthers enjoyed a spectacular 2017 season, posting a 40-6 record while winning a conference championship and making it to the NCAA Division III tournament.

Many of the players responsible for that success have graduated, but according to the preseason poll that was released this week, expectations are still high for the Panthers.

LaGrange College, which enjoyed a stint as the country’s number one team last season, is ranked ninth in the preseason poll.

LaGrange College is the only ranked team in the USA South, and the only other southern team in the top 10 is Birmingham Southern, which is seventh.

The Panthers enjoy that lofty ranking despite losing 15 seniors, most of whom either started or were key contributors.

“It’s going to be a challenge to replace those guys, and in some ways you can’t,” said David Kelton, who is heading into his fifth season as LaGrange College’s head coach. “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.”

The 2017 season was a magical one for the Panthers, who set school records for number of wins and fewest losses while ascending to the number one ranking for three weeks.

LaGrange College rolled through the regular season and the USA South tournament with a 38-4 record, and it went 2-2 in the NCAA tournament.

Among the seniors who helped lead the way were seven players who either made the Division III All-American team or the all-South region team.

There is no looking back, though.

As soon as the 2017 season ended, Kelton and his coaches began putting a plan in place for a new season, and the Panthers will be ready to roll when things get started on Feb. 2 home against Sewanee.

While there are obviously some big holes to fill, there are some talented players returning, including senior outfielder James Poropatic, who hit .373 last season with 29 RBIs.

Also coming back is junior outfielder Billy Peatross, who hit .286 with 23 RBIs, and senior outfielder Jackson Patrick brings a veteran presence to the team.

Sophomore pitcher Richie Post, who was the USA South rookie of the year last spring, returns after going 4-2 with a 3.05 earned run average.

Senior left-handed pitcher Zach English also returns, as do standout relievers Austin Perez and Austin Brown.

The Panthers will spend a lot of time at home early in the season.

LaGrange College’s first eight games will at home before going on the road for seven straight games, and that includes its USA South opener against Covenant on Feb. 23.