Seniors lead the way for Panthers
Published 11:15 am Thursday, May 17, 2018
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It’s a tale of two teams.
In 2017, the LaGrange College Panthers were a veteran squad with a starting lineup composed mostly of seniors who’d been starting for two or three years.
That ultra-talented team went 40-6, won a conference championship and made it to the NCAA Division III national tournament.
This year’s team, naturally, has a drastically different look.
With the departure of so many seniors from last year’s squad, the 2018 version of the LaGrange College baseball team features a mostly new cast of characters.
There are a few holdovers, though.
Sprinkled in amidst the newcomers are some veterans, some guys who were along for the ride last season when the Panthers enjoyed one of the best seasons in the history of the program.
There are, in fact, nine seniors on the roster, and while some of them have played sparingly over the years, a handful of them have been critical
members of the team for the past few seasons.
Those seniors have helped the Panthers keep things rolling along nicely this season.
After winning a second consecutive USA South title, LaGrange College is returning to the NCAA tournament.
LaGrange College will participate in a six-team regional that begins today in Holly Springs, N.C., with the winner advancing to the NCAA World Series in Wisconsin.
After LaGrange College beat North Carolina-Wesleyan to win the conference title, head coach David Kelton expressed his appreciation for the seniors.
“They were huge,” Kelton said. “They’ve been there and done it.”
One of those seniors is James Poropatic, who played at Northgate High in Newnan and has been an integral member of the LaGrange College team for four years.
He got a handful of starts his first two seasons but was mostly a part-time player, and he took off as a junior when he hit .373 and drove in 29 runs.
Poropatic, an outfielder, has been one of the Panthers’ top players this season, hitting .322 with four home runs and 42 RBIs.
Last year, Poropatic was playing alongside men he’d known for two or three years.
It’s been different this season, and Poropatic has enjoyed the process of watching a new team come together.
“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.”
Another senior who was a big part of last year’s team is infielder Jackson Patrick, who started 28 games last season in the outfield.
Patrick, like Poropatic a four-year member of the program, has had a big senior season.
Patrick is hitting .304 with 22 RBIs, and he leads the team with 22 walks.
Senior Austin Jones, who transferred to LaGrange College for the 2017 season and started 13 games at catcher, has been a major contributor as a senior.
Jones is hitting .312 with 10 doubles and 30 RBIs, all while playing arguably the most challenging defensive position on the field.
Jones also has one of the Panthers’ most important hits of the season.
In a 5-4 win over Piedmont in the USA South tournament, it was Jones who had a game-winning double in the bottom of the 10th inning.
Senior Zach English has been with the program for four seasons, and he has seen his role change drastically.
For his first three seasons, English was mainly a starter, but he has pitched exclusively out of the bullpen this year.
English leads the team with 26 appearances, and he’s 4-0 with three saves, and he has a 2.70 earned run average.
“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.”
Another senior pitcher is Austin Perez, who is also in his fourth season with the program.
His best season came in 2017 when he was 1-0 with a 1.31 earned run average, and he has appeared in eight games this year with a 1-0 record.
Senior Collin Barrett is in his second season at LaGrange College, and he has been one of the primary starting pitchers this year.
Barrett has started 11 games, and he’s second on the team in wins with a 7-4 record.
Grant Perry, a four-year member of the program, is a backup catcher to Jones, and he has played in nine games this season.
Senior pitcher Dustin Hardy, who joined the program in 2015, has appeared in four games this season and he is 1-0.
Trey Ward, who came to LaGrange College in 2016, is a reserve infielder, and he has played in four games this season.