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Portal preps for new season
portal crop
Portal coach Dennis Moore, right, lends some advice during a 2015 game against Glascock County in Portal. The Portal Panthers fell just short of the state playoffs last season and look to take the next step in 2016.

    Last year’s Portal Panthers team finished the year 12-12, ending the season with big wins over Liberty County and Claxton.
    Although the team had a solid end to the season, the Panthers were held out of the state playoffs due to a little bit of controversy regarding the Class-A power ratings.
    The Panthers finished just one one-hundredth of a point out of the playoff race. Despite the way the 2015 season ended, this year’s team is focused on the future.
    Portal head baseball coach Dennis Moore said he’s excited for the season and ready for his team to get started.
    “We’re not worried about the past. We’re moving on,” Moore said.
    The Panthers will play in their first game of the season tomorrow, at home, against New Hamstead. Game time is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.
    With baseball season almost in full swing, here’s a look at what to expect from the Panthers this season:

Lean on Leadership
    The Panthers have a unique mix of experience and talented underclassman this year. Portal will have to replace five starters from last year’s squad, including stud hitters Austin Brack and Chase Kirkland. Kirkland and Brack combined to hit 35 RBIs last season. Portal will also be without Parker Parish, who led the team with a .390 batting average in 2015.
    The Panther will look to a capable junior and senior class to lead the way in 2016.
    “Half our team is experienced juniors and seniors and the other half will be brand new,” Moore said. “If we’re going to get it done, it’s going to be our pitching and defense.”

Pitching Prowess
    One of Portal’s strongest assets will be the team’s pitching this season. Junior Jake Brown will get the start today against New Hamstead.
    Brown gave up just six earned runs in 21.1 innings pitched last year. Brown also led the team last year with a 1.96 ERA.
    Coupled with Brown will be standout pitcher Cole Busby. Busby logged 51.2 innings pitched last year, striking out 55 batters.
    Busby is known for a nasty fall-off-the-table breaking ball.
    “He has been our most consistent pitcher and he’s now a senior. We just need him to keep his concentration,” Moore said.

Shuffle at Center
    Among some of the changes the Panthers have made this year, Hector Diaz rotating out of the center field position will be interesting to watch.
    Diaz, who spent most of his playing time in center field in 2015, will be replaced at the position by junior Jamal Simpkins.
    Diaz had a .905 fielding percentage and just four errors on the year from the center field position.
    “We had to move some guys around,” Moore said. “The job of any coach is to get his players ready to play and we’re excited for this season.”