ROCKFORD – Twelve months ago, the Parkway Panthers lost just two games in the Midwest Athletic Conference while posting a 15-10 record overall. With a large contingent of seniors, most of who are entering their third and fourth year at the varsity level, head coach Eric Stachler has lofty expectations this spring.
“We have a lot of talent on the roster in 2008,” commented Stachler. “We are hoping to be able to contend for a league title this spring and hopefully as the season develops, we can continue to improve and expect an extended run into the post-season.”
In order for the Panthers to capture a share of their first MAC title in eight seasons, pitching will need to play a big part. First team All-MAC performer, Jensen Painter logged over 50 innings in 2007, while finishing 3-3 with three saves. He returns this spring and will headline a deep hurling staff. Others in the rotation include Jeremy Heiser (2-0), Austin Art (3-0), Levon Archer (2-5) and Derik Sndyer (1-0).
Jordan Thompson, who earned a football scholarship to Ohio University, returns for his fourth and final season as the Panther’s catcher. Last spring as a first team All-MAC player, he batted .324 with 5 doubles and 17 RBI.
“Our pitching rotation is very deep, with six or seven guys who can fill the spot nicely,” said Stachler, who enters his fifth year at the head of the program. “We still need to work on a few things defensively including giving teams extra outs, but I like where we are as far as pitching and defense at the start of the season.”
Stachler will have experience galore in his infield this season beginning with All-MAC shortstop Derik Snyder. In 2007, Snyder hit .429 at the plate while picking up 6 doubles and 14 stolen bases. Archer is back at third base, while Heiser will hold down the spot at second. Last year, Acher hit .290 with 18 runs batted in, while Heiser batted .322 and swiped 22 bases.
First base is still undecided, however Joel Henkle, Eddie Burtch, and Ethan Hayes all expect to see action depending on who is on the mound. “We return all of our starters to the infield this year and we feel they are a very solid group,” explained Stachler. “We need to improve in the infield from seasons past by eliminating mistakes, and now is the time for our veterans to show that they can be one of the better infields our the area.”
Rounding out the defensive starters in the outfield for the Black and Gold will be Jensen Painter when he is not on the mound. Last season the right fielder batted .500 with eight long balls and 29 runs batted in. Marcus Meyer will likely man centerfield, while Austin Art and Mike Baldauf will share leftfield, depending on the pitching situation. Stachler also expects Ethan Hayes to vie for a spot in the grass when he is not on the mound.
“We have two starters back in the outfield with a lot of experience,” Stachler pointed out. “We will rotate our outfielders in accordance with who is pitching, but I feel confident with anyone in the group that will potentially be out there.”
While the confidence is at high levels for the Panthers, Stachler is quick to point out the many potential obstacles which lie ahead.
“The toughest challenges that we will face this year will be Coldwater and a very tough MAC schedule. We will also have our hands full with Defiance, Lima Shawnee, and the other teams on our schedule from the Western Buckeye League.” He added, “We play the defending Division IV state champions Fort Loramie in a double header and Crestview is always strong as well. We will have to come ready to play, as we will be challenged day in and day out. One of our biggest tests this year will be ourselves. If we are focused and ready to play, we could be a really good team, but if we don't come ready to play, we will be a very average team.”