Panthers head into 2021 season with optimism, return 4 starters from the spring
The Prairie Home Panthers baseball team have plenty of reasons to be optimistic heading into the 2021 season.
After finishing second in the district tournament last spring, losing to Pilot Grove in a close ballgame, the Panthers will now try to build on that success under head coach Dustin Ray with 13 suited out for the 2021 season-four of which are returning starters.
Ray said the team is going to be a younger team that has seen a very good group in front of them play. “As a whole, we are very athletic, and will be as successful as our offense is,” Ray said. “The key for this season is going to be to hit. I believe we will throw strikes, and play defense, but our offense will be the key to victory.”
While finishing 10-8 overall in the spring and 2-2 in the CCAA Conference, the Panthers definitely have something to build on under Ray. He said for the first-two weeks of practice the main focus has been on the offense. He said the team will have to manufacture runs, and do the little things on the base paths to get to the next base. “I told the boys the most precious thing in this game is 90 feet,” Ray said.
As for the strengths of the team this season, Ray said it’s their ability to throw strikes. He also said it’s the athletic nature of the team, and the fact that they have been to the district championship already in their high school careers.
Nonetheless, Ray said the weakness of the team is going to be their ability to hit. He said the Panthers lost a lot of firepower on the offensive side to graduation.
As for the goals of the team this fall, Ray said it’s to advance to the next base on every ball in the dirt, score 10 runs a game, have zero mental errors a game, and two or fewer physical errors.
Returning players this season for the Panthers are Peyton Pitts, Layne Brandes, Oliver Lock and Tripp Kendrick.
Ray said Pitts will more than likely be on the mound this season for the Panthers. “Peyton threw in several games last year, and pitched a couple of innings in the district championship game,” Ray said. “When he isn’t pitching, he will be at third or short. He has a good glove and is going to be a great leader for this team.”
Pitts pitched a total of seven innings in the spring and finished with a total of six strikeouts while giving up five runs on 11 hits and one walk for an ERA of 5.00. He also hit .167 for the season with eight hits in 48 at bats with eight singles, two RBIs and six runs scored.
Brandes will also have an increase role for Prairie Home. While hitting .333 last spring with 21 hits in 63 at bats, Brandes also had 19 singles, two doubles, two RBIs and scored 22 runs. “Layne is the returner with the most experience, playing middle infield and batting leadoff on last year’s team,” Ray said. “He is a great piece to have back on the infield and on the mound. He will start off our lineup and be the sparkplug.”
Of course nobody was more of a surprise than Lock. While hitting .178 for the season with eight hits in 45 at bats with eight singles, seven RBIs and 10 runs scored, Ray said Lock is a utility player and will be a huge threat on the bases this fall. “Ollie was a great surprise because I didn’t think he was going to play, but I am glad he did,” Ray said.
Kendrick will also have a bigger role this fall while appearing in only eight of the 18 games last spring. Ray said Kendrick will be asked to lead this group as the starting catch and will hit in the middle of the order. “Tripp played in certain spot last year, but didn’t play all the time, so he will have an increased role this season for us,” Ray said.