Winning weekend for Panthers

Published 1:24 pm Monday, February 5, 2018

By Kevin Eckleberry

The new-look LaGrange College Panthers embarked on the 2018 season by taking two-of-three from Sewanee in a weekend series at home.

The Panthers are coming off a remarkable season where they went 40-6 and captured the regular-season and tournament titles in the USA South before winning a pair of games in the NCAA Division III tournament.

Many of the players who helped the Panthers enjoy that success have graduated, so it’ll be up to a mostly new group to help keep the good times rolling.

LaGrange College dropped the opener of the Sewanee series on Friday, but it rebounded on Saturday and swept a doubleheader.

After winning the first game 5-4 on Saturday, LaGrange College blanked Sewanee 6-0 to complete the sweep.

In all three games, the Panthers received exceptional starting pitching.

Richie Post, Colin Barrett and Anthony Elias combined to give up one run in 16 2/3 innings, although the bullpen did struggle a bit, particularly in the series-opening 13-5 loss.

Grayson Bittner did pitch 3 1/3 scoreless innings in relief in the third game to get the win.

James Poropatic, one of the Panthers’ two starting position players who has returned, led the offensive effort.

Poropatic, a senior outfielder, had five hits, including two doubles and a triple, with three RBIs in the three games combined.

Freshman McKinley Erves, one of the many newcomers, had four hits with four RBIs, and Jacob Gassert had three hits and a pair of RBIs.

Dawson Weaver had four hits in just seven at-bats with three RBIs, and Ryan Ross had three hits.

Of the players who appeared in the series, only Poropatic and Billy Peatross were regulars in the lineup last season.

Despite the heavy roster turnover, expectations are high once again for the Panthers, who were ranked 10th in the preseason poll.

If the Panthers pitch like they did in their opening series, they’ll be in business.

In the series opener, Richie Post threw six scoreless innings, but Sewanee scored 13 runs against seven relievers.

On Saturday, Barrett got the start in the first game, and he held Sewanee to one run on five hits in six innings.

Trailing 5-1, Sewanee made it interesting with one run in the eighth inning and two more in the ninth before Austin Fain got the final out for the save.

Offensively, Erves had two hits and three RBIs, and Weaver drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.

Gassert, hitting leadoff, had a hit, a walk and two stolen bases, and Jones, Poropatic and Jack Layrisson each had hits.

Ryan Ross scored two runs.

In Saturday’s second game, Elias was the starting pitcher, and he threw 4 2/3 scoreless innings before turning things over to the bullpen.

Bittner was exceptional, allowing two hits and zero runs in his 3 1/3 innings on the mound to get the win.

Zach English tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish things off.

Poropatic had two hits and two RBIs, and Nick Fink had two hits with one RBI.

Erves had a hit and an RBI, Weaver had two hits, and Jack Layrisson and Ross each had a hit.

LaGrange College will be back home on Tuesday against Emory.