Panthers have promise, relying on youth

Shown during a game last season, Bryce Boos is one of several players looking to help the Panthers step up this year after losing eight seniors in 2013. (Bob Mischka photo)
Shown during a game last season, Bryce Boos is one of several players looking to help the Panthers step up this year after losing eight seniors in 2013. (Bob Mischka photo)

By Troy A. Bruzewski

Sports correspondent

If youth prevails, the Palmyra-Eagle High School baseball team may be primed for an upset. The Panthers enter the 2014 schedule following a year with a disappointing regular season but one that finished with postseason success.

The team managed just three wins in April of 2013, which included a seven-game losing streak. But Palmyra-Eagle peaked when the playoffs arrived, ending a five-game losing skid that ended the regular season with wins in the first two rounds of regional competition. Panthers coach Kyle Damrow said a pair of factors sparked the team’s success.

“We actually got healthy and brought-up some JV guys to help at the end of the season,” he said. “We had more consistent batting and by the end of the season, we had three freshman and a sophomore in the top six spots of the lineup.”

Damrow said the boost his team received by the late-season additions may have helped during the regular season, but it wasn’t a viable option.

“We wanted to keep two full teams for the entire season and when the JV season ended, we took the best few players,” Damrow said. “It shored-up the lineup and had more consistent at-bats.”

Getting experience for some of those JV players was crucial for this year’s team because the Panthers will be relying heavily on underclassmen. Palmyra-Eagle lost eight seniors from the 2013 team, which leaves Damrow with plenty of spots to fill.

The Panthers will have new starters at catcher, first base, second base, shortstop and two outfield positions. And the pitching staff has an equal amount of turnover.

“We were senior-heavy last year and we lost 90 percent of our innings pitched,” Damrow said. “Only 10 percent of our innings last year, were pitched by guys coming back this year.”

Two of the returners Damrow expects to help account for the difference in innings pitched and contribute at the plate are Bryce Boos and Nate Behr. The coach hopes these two can assist the team’s additions and help the Panthers take advantage of a division ripe for the picking.

“The south half of the conference is very down; it’s possibly the weakest it’s been in my seven years of coaching here,” Damrow said. “For the past six years, the south division has always beaten-up on the north division. Now, the pendulum has swung and it seems like every south school graduated 7-8 seniors.”

Last year, the Panthers managed a 3-11 record in the RVC, placing them fourth in the South division. Parkview topped the division with a 12-4 record, followed by Beloit Turner at 10-6 and Big Foot in third at 8-7.

Damrow said that good play from the team’s newer players could easily put the Panthers in a fight for second in the division and under the right circumstances even compete for the top spot.

“Right now, Big Foot is the team to beat,” he said. “That’s the only team that didn’t graduate more than two seniors, but it’s a five-team race for second.”

“If our younger guys come up and play well, we could easily be in second place and who knows, if we could beat Big Foot, it could be for the division lead,” he added.

The Panthers are scheduled to face that Big Foot team early in the season. They open the season on Saturday at Lake Country Lutheran, then host East Troy the following Tuesday in the home opener.

Palmyra-Eagle hosts the first of a home-and-home series with the Chiefs, April 15, with Big Foot hosting the Panthers two days later.

The regular season ends with a pair of road games for Palmyra-Eagle; May 22 at Parkview and May 27 at New Glarus.

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