Panthers win on senior day
Published 9:24 pm Sunday, April 22, 2018
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
And now they wait.
The LaGrange College Panthers put the wraps on another fantastic regular season with a 9-1 victory over Belhaven on a pleasant Saturday afternoon at Ceaveland Field in Williamson Stadium.
The Panthers, who won the USA South championship the previous weekend, closed the regular season at 28-16, and they’ve won 21 of their past 27 games.
LaGrange College will wait to find out where it will be headed for the NCAA Division III regional next month.
This is the second consecutive season the Panthers have made it to the NCAA tournament.
A year ago, a senior-dominated team went 40-6 and won the conference championship.
It’s been a mostly new cast of characters this season, but after some stumbles in the first month, the Panthers have been rolling along nicely.
It all came together in the conference tournament, with LaGrange College winning four in a row to make it back-to-back titles.
“We keep talking to the guys, it’s playing unselfish baseball, team baseball, and just getting those guys to buy into it,” LaGrange College head coach David Kelton said. “We had all that turnover from last year, but still, if you buy into playing fundamentally sound baseball, and playing for each other, you can win a lot.”
The conference title gave the Panthers an invitation to the NCAA tournament for the second straight a year ago.
Last season, LaGrange College went 2-2 in the South regional.
“It’s going to be our second year in a row, and hopefully this year we can make a deeper run,” said one of the Panthers’ top players this season, Jacob Gassert. “It’s definitely going to be exciting to go back.”
Before Sunday’s game, the team’s nine seniors were introduced, and they’ve been a part of a lot of special moments over the years.
The seniors are Collin Barrett, Zach English, Austin Jones, Jackson Patrick, Austin Perez, Grant Perry, James Poropatic, Dustin Tardy and Trey Ward, and those players have helped the Panthers win 111 wins over the past four years.
Poropatic is the only player who has started the past two seasons, and he has enjoyed the ride this spring playing alongside a mostly new cast.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “Last year we had a bunch of older guys, a bunch of seniors. This year it’s a whole new lineup.
“It took a while to gel together, and we’re playing our best baseball right now. It’s a great time for it.”
In Sunday’s game, LaGrange College overwhelmed Belhaven to take two-of-three in the series.
The Panthers scored six runs in the bottom of the first inning to take control, and they finished with 16 hits.
Poropatic, in his final game on his home field, had three hits and an RBI, and junior catcher Austin Jones also had three hits with an RBI.
Freshman first baseman Jack Layrisson had three hits and an RBI, and Dawson Weaver and Gassert each had two hits with an RBI.
Patrick, hitting in the leadoff position, had two hits, and McKinley Erves and Rhett Hollon each had a hit and an RBI.
Barrett got the start on senior day, and he threw 5 1/3 innings and held Belhaven to three hits and one run.
Two other seniors finished things off on the mound.
Perez threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings, and English didn’t allow a run in his 2 1/3 innings on the mound.