LANCASTER — The bats of the Circleville Post 134 Panthers went silent at the wrong time over the weekend, resulting in losses of 6-0 to Wayne County Post 68 on Friday night in the winner’s bracket final and 2-1 in an elimination game to Sidney Post 217 on Saturday morning at Beavers Field.
“It was frustrating, because we’ve had a great second half and the kids have really done a nice job of executing at the plate,” Post 134 coach Jeff Lanman said. “We only had nine hits in those two games, because we got away from our approach of hunting for fastballs by becoming a little overaggressive in the wrong situations.”
Nick Salyer had an RBI double in the first inning to knock in the lone run against Post 217, who the Panthers had blanked 3-0 in the first game of the tournament. The Panthers yielded Post 217 a pair of unearned runs in the fourth inning.
“Eric Corzatt and Max Brooks both pitched well, but we just couldn’t put anything together for them,” Lanman said.
The defending state champion Panthers finished fourth in the eight-team tournament.
What Lanman will take from the season is the dramatic transformation of the Panthers, who started the season at 3-12 but went onto win 19 of their last 24 games to claim their fourth consecutive regional championship.
“We had a young team to start the season and we also went through some injuries,” Lanman said. “Our pitchers weren’t throwing enough strikes and walking too many batters, we weren’t as strong as we are typically defensively and then we were inconsistent with our approach at the plate.
“To see how far our kids have come from then until now is amazing. We’re going to have far fewer questions entering next season than we did this season.”
Lanman credited the Panthers’ improvement to a willingness to go the extra mile in practice.
“(Assistant coach Justin Good) and I put in more work teaching this group than we probably have any other group,” Lanman said. “All of our kids were very coachable and that allowed us to work hard and really have a lot of productive practices. This group practiced more than any other group we’ve had and this group has come further than any other group we’ve had from the start of the season until now.”
During the second half of the season and the tournament, the Panthers faced eight teams that either won a state championship or finished as a state runner-up and went 6-2, including defeating eventual Ohio champion Beverly-Lowell Posts 389/750 7-2 in a winner’s bracket semifinal last week.
“Our kids have an amazing work ethic. A couple of our kids have to drive an hour to get here and they’ll willing to make that trip just to get some extra hitting in. That’s dedication,” he said. “I’m really proud of the way our kids battled adversity, how they worked and they showed the type of team we became through that hard work against the toughest schedule we’ve ever put together.”
The Panthers are slated to return a solid catching duo of Lane Larson and Ryan Schwartz. Around the infield, the Panthers are expected to return third baseman Nick Salyer, shortstop Cody Kennedy and second baseman Tanner Bennett, to go with an outfield of Ty Lau, Andrew Grcic and Cam Farley.
“I’ll admit that I’m hard on my catchers, but I’m proud of the growth Lane continued to show and then how far Ryan came from the beginning of the season until now of becoming a student of the game,” Lanman said. “We really have two quality catchers, both for next season and in 2021.
“We’re going to have a pretty strong defensive team with all of those starters returning and we’ll continue to work to fine tune some things in the batting cage during the winter with our kids to prepare them for school and Legion ball.”
Salyer, who will attend Muskingum University to play baseball next spring, will anchor the pitching staff that should include Eric Corzatt, Max Brooks, Farley and additional arms either coming up through the program or who will tryout.
“We have a nice core to build off of with our pitching, especially with two bulldogs like Nick and Eric helping to lead the way,” Lanman said. “We have some pitchers we’re excited about coming through our younger teams and then we’ll look to add a little more depth through our tryouts.”