Panthers chasing repeat championship
Published 12:13 pm Tuesday, April 10, 2018
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
A year ago, the LaGrange College Panthers were the heavy favorite to win the USA South baseball championship.
The Panthers ended the regular season with a 16-2 conference record, and they were the top-ranked NCAA Division III team in the country.
The Panthers, as many expected, went out and won the championship by going 4-0 in the USA South tournament.
Flash forward a year, and the Panthers are preparing for another conference tournament, and this time they’re not the consensus favorite.
The Panthers (22-15 overall) went 10-8 against conference foes in the regular season, and they’re the number six seed for the USA South tournament that begins on Wednesday.
LaGrange College plays its first game in the double-elimination tournament against third-seeded Ferrum on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. at Point University’s stadium in West Point.
While the Panthers aren’t the juggernaut they were a year ago, they figure to be one of the teams to beat this week.
Despite losing two of three to Ferrum last weekend, LaGrange College is one of the hottest teams in the USA South.
LaGrange College finished March by winning 13 of 16 games, and it had won four
consecutive USA South series before falling to Ferrum.
That it took the Panthers a while to find their footing wasn’t entirely surprising.
The Panthers went 40-6 a year ago, but most of the key players graduated, so it was a new-look team that hit the field for the season opener in February.
When LaGrange College lost to Huntingdon on March 3, it was 7-10 overall, and 1-4 in the conference.
Since then, the Panthers have been rolling, and they’re 9-4 in their past 13 conference games.
One of the veterans in the lineup is senior outfielder James Poropatic, and he has been terrific.
Poropatic is second on the team with a .327 batting average, and he leads the way in home runs (four), RBIs (35), hits (49) and runs (36).
He’s among the team leaders in doubles (five), triples (four) and stolen bases (eight).
On the other end of the experience spectrum is Jack Laryrisson, who has been one of the top freshman in the USA South.
Layrisson leads the team with a .328 batting average, and he’s second on the team in RBIs (33) and home runs (three).
Another one of the Panthers’ talented newcomers is freshman McKinley Erves, who is hitting .318 with 28 RBIs, and junior Jacob Gassert has a .304 average with 21 RBIs.
Sophomore Dawson Weaver has a .300 average with 11 RBIs, freshman Rhett Mixon is hitting .295 with 19 RBIs, senior Austin Jones has a .284 average with 23 RBIs, and senior Jackson Patrick is hitting .290 with 16 RBIs.
On the mound, LaGrange College’s three main starting pitchers are Colin Barrett, Austin Fain and Richie Post.
Fain, a junior who is in his first season at LaGrange College after transferring from a junior college in Alabama, has been terrific.
Fain, who has started 10 games, is 5-2 with a 2.44 earned run average.
Barrett is 5-4 with a 4.43 ERA and Post is 3-3 with a stellar 2.74 ERA.
Senior Zach English has pitched in 23 games, and he is 3-0 with three saves and a 2.66 ERA.
Freshman Gibson Bittner has also been a lock-down pitcher out of the bullpen, and he is 5-1 with a save in 17 appearances, and he has a 1.51 ERA.