Panthers look to take another step with five returning starters

Chris Bowie
PRAIRIE HOME/BUNCETON BASEBALL TEAM (front row, left to right) Caden Pearcy, Tripp Kendrick, Grant Milne, Laynes Brandes and Landon Case. (back row, left to right) Garrison Parkhurst, Talon Benne, Jason Burnett, Blane Petsel, Peyton Pitts, Hunter Shuffield, Dillon Alpers and Ryan Small.

Finishing two games over the .500 mark last fall at 9-7 was a step in the right direction for the Prairie Home/Bunceton baseball team.

Although the Panthers had their season canceled in the spring due to COVID-19, head coach Trever Huth said the outlook for the 2020 season is a good looking one.

And rightly so. With 14 players suited out for the fall season, Prairie Home will return five starters and six letterwinners under Huth’s helm.

The Panthers will also try to defend their title in the CCAA Conference after finishing 2-0 last fall.

“We picked up some more students wanting to pitch and looked like our defense has improved also,”Huth said. “Also, we will hustle every play and make sure we run every ball out and put pressure on the defense to make an out. With that being said, we will be able to compete in every game we play this fall and that’s our goal. To make the routine outs and put the ball in play to challenge other teams to get us out.”

In what could be the final year of the conference with Higbee bolting to another conference for the 2021-22 school year, the Panthers know this could be their final chance to repeat as champions in the CCAA in baseball.

Huth said he feels the conference title will come down to Prairie Home and Jamestown.

“They are always well coached and they make you have to beat them every game,”Huth said. “They have the right mix of upper classmen and lower classmen that play well together and are a tough team year in and year out. Calvary Lutheran will also be a tough team. They always have students that play the game well and compete every day. They are also well coach and don’t make any win easy. They have pitching depth and make you put the ball in play to beat them.”

The Panthers will find out soon enough if they are pretenders or contenders. Prairie Home opens the season at home against St. Elizabeth on August 28. The Wildcats captured the state championship in the spring of 2019.

Huth said the key to the season for the Panthers will be making sure they throw strikes and play good defense behind the pitchers. He said the Panthers will put up runs but as long as they can keep the ball in front of them and throw strikes on the mound, they will compete every game.

With five starters and six returning lettermen leading the way this season for Prairie Home, Huth said he feels the strengths of the season will be the offense. He said the Panthers will compete at the plate 1-9 and put the ball in play regularly.

“Everyone can bunt and play the game the right way at the plate to move runners over and have good situation hitting to manufacture runs,” Huth said. “Our pitching will have to step up this season in order for us to improve on last season. We picked up some more arms this season, so we will be deeper on the mound but throwing strikes will always be the key. Challenging the hitters to put the ball in play and keeping walks low will also be a priority. Our defense will also need to improve from last season. At times we would be nails in the field and then there would be times we struggled. Just finding a consistent medium is key to just making the routine plays and keeping the batting lineup in order the best we can.”

As for the team goals this fall, Huth said the team wants to compete every game and play the game the right way. He said hustling on and off the field and running every play out and never giving up will be key.

“Along with that we have our eyes set at being at the top of the conference,” Huth said. “If we can compete and play together every game we can complete these goals.”

With just a week before the first game, Huth said the starters aren’t set yet at most positions.

As for the five starters returning from last year, Huth will look to seniors Jason Burnett, Blane Petsel, Dillon Alpers, Hunter Shuffield and Talon Benne.

Huth said Burnett will be starting some games at catcher this season for the Panthers and will also see time on the mound in a reliever role.

As for Petsel, Huth said he will get a look at shortstop and will hit towards the top of the lineup as he did last season.

Alpers will also have many hats this season for Prairie Home while playing both in the outfield and pitching.

As for Shuffield, Huth said the senior will get time at a lot of position this season. He said Shuffield is an athletic kid that fields the ball well in the outfield and the infield. “No matter where you put him he has a good arm to throw people out and will catch the ball hit around him,” Huth said.

Shuffield, like a lot of players for the Panthers, will also get his shot on the mound this fall.

As for Benne, Huth said the four-year starter will see a lot of time at first base and on the mound. He said Benne really worked hard this offseason and it shows.

Other players who will see playing time this season for Prairie Home are Payton Pitts, Ryan Small, Kaden Pearcy, Tripp Kendrick, Layne Brandes, Landon Case, Garrison Parkhurst and Grant Milne.

Huth said Pitts, Small, and Pearcy will see most of their time in the outfield this season for Prairie Home. Kendrick will play both catcher and in the outfield while Brandes will get some time at second base. Case, meanwhile, will see time both as a pitcher and outfielder while Parkhurst will play both first base and outfield. Huth is a player that looks to get some time everywhere this season.