Big week for Panthers’ Poropatic

Published 2:11 pm Tuesday, March 20, 2018


Daily News

With the game on the line, the right man was at the plate.

The LaGrange College Panthers trailed Maryville by two runs on Sunday afternoon when James Poropatic came to bat with the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth inning.

On an inexperienced team, Poropatic is the veteran, the guy who has been in those pressure situations so many times before.

After falling behind 0-2, Poropatic fouled off a number of tough pitches before getting one he could handle.

Poropatic drove the ball into right field for a three-run triple, and the Panthers had a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

LaGrange College went on to win 11-8 to take two-of-three in the USA South series.

Poropatic, the only returning starter in the lineup, had a double, a triple, and a solo home run while driving in four runs.

Poropatic’s bases-clearing triple in the sixth inning was the biggest hit of the game, and he put all of his experience to work during the at-bat.”

“He’s a senior, with a ton of experience, and it showed right there,” LaGrange College head coach David Kelton said. “He’s used to that situation. He didn’t panic when it got to two strikes, and he just battled and battled and battled, and he got a pitch to do something with and went opposite field. It was a great approach, and a great at-bat in such a crucial time in the game.”

After the second strike, Poropatic’s goal was to “foul off as many pitches as I can and wait on that mistake pitch.”

Poropatic did that, and when he got a pitch he could handle, he drove it to the fence.

“The one I hit was a fastball,” Poropatic said. “He made a mistake pitch, I didn’t miss it.”

Last season, Poropatic hit .373 and drove in 29 runs for a team that went 40-6, won a conference championship and reached the NCAA Division III national playoffs.

When the Panthers reconvened for a new season, one of the few veterans was Poropatic.

While he was just one of the guys last season, now Poropatic is a senior leader who has the eyes of the younger players on him.

Poropatic said he tries to “lead by example.”

“It’s a different team from last year,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of new guys. You’ve got to tell them how we do it here. They follow you.”

Poropatic has started all 25 games this spring, and he’s having a big season.

He’s leading the team in batting average (.347), RBIs (22), home runs (three), hits (34) and doubles (four).

In the Maryville series, Poropatic was 7-of-12 with four runs scored and four RBIs while leading the team to a pair of wins.

Based on that performance, Poropatic was named the USA South player of the week.

NEW ROLE: During his first three seasons on the LaGrange College baseball team, Zach English was primarily a starting pitcher.

This season, English’s role has changed in a major way.

English has become a relief pitcher, and he has appeared in a team-leading 15 games.

English has thrived in his new role.

In 30 innings, English has a 1.78 earned run average, and he has three wins and three saves.

In 13 of English’s appearances he hasn’t given up an earned run, and he threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings in Sunday’s 11-8 win over Maryville.

“This is a totally new role for him,” Kelton said. “He’s been a starter. Coach (Scott) Mularz last year worked with his arm slot to help him get down in the zone. And he’s totally bought into it, and now he’s found it. He’s confident in what he’s done, and he’s done a phenomenal job for us. We use him on the back in, and we also use him in the middle as a stopper.”

FRESHMEN SHINE: Three freshmen have made their way into the every-day lineup, and they have been key contributors.

Among that group is first baseman Jack Layrisson, who is hitting .292 with three home runs and 18 RBIs.

Last week, Layrisson was 8-of-16 in games, and he was named the USA South rookie of the week.

Outfielder Rhett Mixon is hitting .302, and he has 12 RBIs, and he’s tied for the team lead with six stolen bases.

Outfielder McKinley Erves is hitting .264, and he has driven in 15 runs.

On the pitching staff, freshman Gibson Bittner has appeared in 12 games, and he’s 2-0 with a 1.95 earned run average.

Freshmen Kolby Skolnick, Coston Anderson, Tanner Chafin and Grayson Bagwell have also pitched for the Panthers.