Over the course of 10 days, Circleville Post 134 coach Jeff Lanman has went from worrying about if he assembled too difficult a schedule for a young team to navigate to seeing the Panthers come together and win eight out of their last nine games.
“This is the most ambitious schedule we’ve ever put together for our program. Going into the tournament last weekend in West Virginia, we were 3-12 on the season and I was concerned if I had overscheduled and put our kids in a tough position,” Lanman said. “We had competed in most of our games, losing by one or two runs, but we were making a few too many mistakes to beat the caliber of teams we were playing.
“I have to give our kids a lot of credit, because they’ve hung in there against this schedule, against adversity and they’ve kept working hard to get better, especially at the plate. The light bulb finally went on last weekend over in Wheeling and we’ve been a different team since then.”
The Panthers spent the weekend over in Kokomo, Indiana at the Post 6 Fourth of July Tournament and returned home late Sunday following a 10-4 win over Lafayette (Ind.) Post 11 to win the tournament championship.
Post 134 went a perfect 6-0 in the tournament and saw its offense come to life by scoring 54 runs.
“We have a better approach at the plate than we did earlier in the season and we’re hitting from top-to-bottom in our lineup and getting power out of the heart of the order,” Lanman said. “One of the reasons we struggled earlier in the season was we were trying to find out who was the best fit to hit first and second before Nick Salyer came up third. Often, he’d hit a double but we had no one on base.
“Ty Lau has really come a long way with his bat and he’s done a nice job of taking over the leadoff spot. When we were over in West Virginia, he got on base 14 of the 16 times he batted.”
The Panthers opened the tournament against host Kokomo and rallied from a 7-0 deficit to claim a 9-7 win — highlighted by a grand slam off the bat of Eric Corzatt and a three-run double by Salyer to complete the comeback.
Post 134 earned the No. 1 seed following pool play and eventually advanced to the final against Lafayette, where it took control of the game by sending 13 batters to the plate for an eight-run third inning.
Noah Cline hit a three-run homer to provide the big blow of the inning, which also featured a pair of RBI singles off the bat of Lane Larson, a two-run single from Salyer and an RBI single by Lau.
“Lafayette has five Division I kids on their team and their starting pitcher (Kobe McNeely) threw in the low-90s, but our kids drove him out of the game in the third inning,” Lanman said.
Cline finished the day by going 2-for-3 with three RBI and a run scored and Larson was 2-for-3 with two RBI and a run scored. Tanner Bennett singled and scored three times and Andrew Gracic singled and scored twice.
Cline worked four and one-third innings and allowed two hits and three runs — one earned — to earn the win. Noah Rossiter came on in relief and threw the final two and two-third innings and allowed three hits and an earned run.
Lanman discussed how his younger players have stepped up over the course of the last two weeks.
“We’ve been banged up for the last several weeks and that’s forced our young guys to step-up and take on a bigger role,” Lanman said. “It was tough to get off to the start we did, but our young guys didn’t get dispirited and they kept working to become better baseball players. We still have a ways to go, but I like the direction we’re going.
“One of the biggest things is they aren’t beating themselves up if they make a mistake. They work to learn from it and get better.”
Lanman noted the strong pitching the Panthers have received from the top of their staff, along with how they’ve developed depth to win in tournament play.
“Noah Cline and Nick Salyer are both really throwing the baseball well and they’re doing a nice job of leading our staff,” he said. “Eric Corzatt is giving us five solid innings every time he takes the ball and then Noah Rossiter has come back after not throwing a couple of weeks and has done a nice job.
“We’ve also had some of our younger guys come along and give us some solid innings, like Tanner Bennett and Max Brooks.”
Lanman credited the leadership of Salyer and Corzatt for helping the Panthers to start turning the corner.
Since June 20, the Panthers have traveled 1,400 miles and played in tournaments in Terre Haute and Kokomo, Ind. and Wheeling, W. Va.
“Noah Cline is working full-time this summer and also has an internship, which he needs to do for his future, so he hasn’t been with us for every tournament,” he said. “Nick and Eric have stepped up and took over the leadership of the team, helping along our younger guys, supporting them and they’re both doing a phenomenal job.”
The Panthers (11-13) host pool play in the Buckeye Elite Tournament on Thursday and Friday on the campus of Circleville High School.