Winning month for Panthers
Published 12:19 pm Monday, April 2, 2018
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
March was kind to the LaGrange College Panthers.
The Panthers dropped their first two games of the month, but they’ve only lost three times since then.
With Saturday’s doubleheader sweep of Piedmont, LaGrange College has won 13 of its past 16 games to improve to 20-13 overall, and 9-6 in the USA South.
Piedmont got the best of LaGrange College in the opening game of the series on Friday night.
It was the same situation LaGrange College found itself in earlier in the month when it lost the first game of a home series to Maryville.
LaGrange College bounced back to win the final two games against Maryville, and it duplicated that feat against Piedmont.
“The Maryville series was huge,” LaGrange College head coach David Kelton said. “Friday night when we got beat (by Piedmont), I told them tough loss, but you’ve been here. Let’s come out and win today. And they did a great job.”
The Panthers went 40-6 a year ago and won the conference championship and made it to the NCAA Division III tournament.
Most of the key contributors from that team graduated, so it was a new-look squad that took the field for the opener in February.
As the season reaches the home stretch, though, the Panthers have hit their stride and appear fully capable of depending their conference title.
“It’s that old saying, it’s now you to begin, it’s how you finish,” Kelton said. “So with this team especially, you knew the beginning could potentially be a grind with so many new players. And it was, but we still found out some things and were able to win some games. Now, we’re starting to gel and play a lot better baseball.”
The Panthers had their bats working on Saturday, and they scored a dozen runs in each of the games.
After winning the opener 12-7, LaGrange College finished the sweep with a 12-2 win.
“We’re to the point where we’re not wasting any at-bats,” Kelton said. “We did a lot of that early in the year, and now we’re learning from it. Now, we’ve got guys in the middle that we need to help carry us a little bit, and they’re doing a great job. And all the guys around them are doing a great job of getting on base and just grinding out at-bats.”
In Saturday’s first game, the Panthers pounded out 11 hits, with leadoff hitter Rhett Mixon leading the way with three hits and three RBIs.
Jack Layrisson had two hits, two walks, two RBIs and three runs scored, Austin Jones had a two-run double, McKinley Erves and Dawson Weaver each had a hit and two RBIs, and Jacob Gassert had a hit and scored a run.
Gibson Bittner did a terrific job out of the bullpen to get the win.
After starter Colin Barrett struggled, Bittner entered the game in the fifth inning, and he threw 4 2/3 scoreless innings, giving up just two hits while striking out four.
In Saturday’s second game, it was all LaGrange College.
The Panthers led 4-0 after the first inning, and they never looked back on the way to the 12-2 win.
Once again, the Panthers had it working offensively.
Mixon had four of the Panthers’ 15 hits, and he had an RBI and three runs scored.
Layrisson had two hits and three RBIs, Weaver had two hits and three runs scored, and Erves had a pair of hits.
Poropatic had a double and two RBIs, and Ryan Ross had an RBI single.
Austin Fain got the start, and he threw 5 2/3 innings, limiting Piedmont to six hits and an unearned run.
Andrew Padovano pitched 2 1/3 innings, and Zach English finished it with a scoreless ninth inning.
LaGrange College hosts Oglethorpe on Tuesday before heading to Virginia on Friday for the start of a three-game USA South series against Ferrum.
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