Once the final out was made on Thursday that brought an historic season to a close for the Circleville Post 134 Panthers, long-time coach Jeff Lanman admittedly was emotional.
“It was tough to have our season end there, because we wanted to put together a run in the Great Lakes Regional, but the toughest thing about it was knowing that would be the last time everyone would be together on a baseball field,” he said. “I couldn’t bring myself to address the team after the game, I was just too emotional and (Assistant Coach) Justin Good talked to the kids.
“We rode the bus back home to Circleville, because I wanted the team to take one last ride together, and that’s when I talked to the kids and told them how much they mean to me, how proud of them I am and thanked them for a great season.”
The Panthers finished the season at 35-11 and won their first senior state championship in program history. It was the second appearance for Post 134 in the state championship game, where it finished as runner-up in 2013.
“That 2013 team has a special place in my heart, because it was a great group of kids,” Lanman said. “But even on that team, there were a few cliques.
“This team was really special, because there were no cliques and you wouldn’t know who would be hanging out with who from one night to the next when we were on the road in a tournament. Our kids really enjoyed being around each other, and it was a joy to be around them.”
Lanman believes the Panthers also featured their most balance in program history at the plate, on the mound and in the field.
“There are good teams that are still dependent on one player to come through for them to win, but that wasn’t the case for us. That’s how well-balanced our team was,” he said. “A different kid would come through on a nightly basis, so we weren’t dependent on just one kid or a couple of kids.
“Our lineup was pretty good from top-to-bottom, we had four good starting pitchers and some relievers and then we could flat out field. When you have a team that fields as well as ours, with kids like Andrew Barnhart at shortstop and Brett Carson in center, it gives your pitching staff confidence to go after hitters.”
Lanman complimented regional host Napoleon Post 300 and the American Legion for the tournament that they put on at Mercy Field in Toledo.
“It was a phenomenal experience for our kids and everything was first-class,” he said. “Each kid got a t-shirt, a goodie bag and they traded pins with the other teams.
“One of the great things about the tournament was all eight teams stayed at the same hotel and that allowed the kids to talk with kids from the other teams. They had games, like a cornhole tournament, organized for the teams the night before the tournament, a pizza party and some other activities.”
Lanman also noted how the Panthers were complimented at the tournament.
“All summer long people have complimented us on how our kids behave and act when we’re on the road, and that continued this week,” he said. “That’s not an accident. We have a group of quality kids and if one were to get out of line, my wife (Michele) would snap him back into line pretty quick.
“Our kids have done a great job of representing the high schools they’re from, Pickaway County and the south central Ohio area, as our program has grown to include kids from the surrounding counties.”
The Panthers lose six players to the age limit in Chris Conrad, Cody Anderson, Andrew Barnhart, Austin Nunemaker, Travis Grim and Jared Younkin.
“Chris, Cody, Andrew and Austin were all on our 16U team that won the junior state championship in 2016 and were one of the backbones of our program the last couple of seasons at the senior level,” Lanman said. “It’s been great having a quality player like Travis around the last couple years, and then Jared has been an inspiration to the kids and coaches on the team with the way he battled back from his back injury in a car accident (during his senior year at Teays Valley) and really contributed to our team.
“Those six kids have turned into six young men. They’re great students, great teammates, great people and I’m really going to miss them. They raised the bar of our program to another level.”
Lanman said the regional trip was a learning experience for the Panthers, who look to transition from a program that dreams about winning a state tournament to a program that dreams about winning a regional championship and qualifying for the American Legion World Series.
“Every year our schedule has ended with the state tournament in Lancaster with the goal of winning a state championship,” Lanman said. “That’s history. Now our schedule will end every season with the World Series listed, because that’s our goal now.
“We got to interact with and play against some great programs and coaches from across the Midwest at the regional. We know that we need to get a little deeper, especially pitching wise, if we want to become a national-level program. We need to have a deeper bench, so we can afford to give kids a few more days off to keep them fresh and also breed more competition, which is something I think our kids will thrive on because they’re competitive kids.
“We also need to make our schedule tougher and look to get into some tougher tournaments,” he added. “We want to play against the top programs not only in Ohio, but throughout the Great Lakes Region.”
Lanman is excited about what the Panthers return, starting with infielder/pitcher Noah Cline, infielder/pitcher Nick Salyer, center fielder Brett Carson, catcher Lane Larson, first baseman Seth Lockard and outfielder Cam Farley. That list doesn’t include a junior state championship team from this season that will help reload the senior team for another run.
“We have two aces in Noah Cline and Nick Salyer coming back, plus we’ll add Kyle Wingo and Eric Corzatt off our junior team,” he said. “I believe we have two good catchers who have the possibility of being very good in Lane Larson and Ryan Schwartz, who will come up from the junior team.
“Add to that a solid stick like Seth Lockard and a couple of quality outfielders like Brett and Cam, and we have a solid base to build on and look to add to going into next season.”