The Portal Panthers were able to accomplish something on opening day, that they weren’t able to do at all last season, win a baseball game.
Last season the Panthers went 0-21, this year they not only won the opening game of the season, but the Panthers are now 4-1 as they prepare for their region opener Tuesday evening.
“We have tried to build a culture of positivity this year,” said first year coach Russ Winter. “The kids seem like they have bought in, and it began over the summer.”
“In May we started what we called the road to May,” Winter said. “That is saying we want to still be playing baseball this May. That is when the postseason starts, and that is our goal. To get to May, we will have to get through a round, or two in the playoffs, but we all feel that is something we can accomplish.”
The Panthers were able to achieve a smaller goal with a win February 10th against Glascock County, one that was maybe even more important considering what happened last season.
“We had a brick that we sat out past the foul pole that said 0-21,” Winter said. “We put that out there before our first practice. After we won our game against Glascock County everybody took a sledgehammer to it, and shattered it.”
The Panthers started the pre-season practice with 30 players, and currently have 22 on the team. Coach Winter says one of the keys to the Panthers early success has been the work the team has put in during the off-season, and the senior leadership.
“We started in May, and had workouts during the fall as well,” Winter said. “I also have to give credit to our seniors. We have six of them that have really stepped up from a leadership standpoint.”
Many of those seniors went through the 0-21 campaign last year, and feel like getting the season off on a winning note really took off a lot of pressure.
“Getting that first win was huge for us,” said senior first baseman Brennan Smith, “We have spent a lot of time in the cages, and I feel like we are hitting the ball a lot better than we did last year.”
“As seniors we have really tried our best to help encourage the younger players,” said Panther outfielder Blaise Murphy. “I feel like we are very good defensively, and we have had a lot of people getting on base.”
While the Panthers have six seniors, there have been a lot of different players that have caught the eye of coach Winter.
“I’d say senior Brennan Smith has been one of our biggest leaders out there,” Winter said. “Our junior shortstop Reid Thompson has been playing really well for us, and on the mound sophomore Brady Mallard and senior Blaise Murphy have really helped us out.”
The Panthers open region play Tuesday at 5:30 at Claxton. The Panthers then host Toombs County Thursday at 5:30, and host ECI Friday at 5:30 p.m.