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Fully-Loaded Panthers Open with High Expectations in Baseball Season Opener
March 26, 2008 - It’s been 27 years since the Knightstown Panthers have won a high school baseball sectional. If the pollsters are correct, that streak could come to an end this season.
Returning 11 letter winners and eight of nine starters, the Panthers will take the field tonight ranked third in the state in Class 2A and with some of the highest expectations the team has had in decades.
Coach Donnie Martin will send a veteran team onto the field when Class 3A Number 10 ranked New Palestine visits for the season opener. Knightstown has depth and experience at every position, a pitching staff that is a veteran crew, and an all-state player in senior Joe Haase.
The outlook is bright.
“We have seven kids who can throw strikes and I wouldn’t hesitate to put any one of them on the mound,” Martin said. “We need to get improved play on defense this year and the hitting should take care of itself. We’ve got a lot of depth and some kids who have been hitting the ball very well.”
Like last season, Haase is the straw that stirs the drink on this Panther team. He has signed to play baseball for Purdue University, and set the standard high last season when he hit .615, which was third best in the entire state. His batting average was also the ninth-highest in Indiana high school baseball history.
Haase will also be the ace on the Panther pitching staff, although there are several other good arms ready to take the mound. Senior Jordan Bearhope is an all-state candidate and hit .375 as a junior. He was the team’s number three pitcher last season and is bigger and stronger heading into this spring.
“We feel pretty good about our chances this season,” Martin said. “Zach Burchett has been hitting the ball really well and Isaac Imel can play two or three different positions. We have depth at every position and a lot of team speed. We’re going to let the kids do a lot of running this year and see what happens.”
Returning starter Levi Blair will lead off in the opener and will be followed by Jared Kayajan, who had a knack for getting on base often last season. Haase will hit in the number three spot and Bearhope will bat clean-up.
Senior left fielder Trey McColley will keep teams honest when they face Haase and Bearhope. The teams’ roster goes deeper than usual for a Class 2A school. Burchett, Imel, Brice Biehl, Chad Oakes, Travis Titus, Drew Martin, Danny Ortman, Nolan Hall, Zach Apollos, Mike Hurst and Rayburn Steinwachs will all be scrapping for playing time. Steinwachs had a mammoth game against Tri High last season, blasting two home runs and driving home six runners in one inning.
Besides Haase and Bearhope, Coach Martin can call on a host of other players to throw strikes. Oakes, Burchett and Blair will also see starts on the mound. Haase is scheduled to start the opener against the Dragons, while Blair will likely get the call Thursday against Waldron.
Last year the Panthers went 15-10 on the season, losing a disappointing sectional opener to Shenandoah, 7-6. The Panthers had just defeated the Raiders the week before to wrap of the White River Athletic Conference title. Knightstown was 6-2 in WRAC play last season.
The Panthers have won just three sectional titles in school history, but it’s been 27 years since the school claimed the last one. Knightstown won its first sectional in 1967, and also took the regional title that year. The Panthers won again in 1979, and claimed their third title in 1981.
Southpaw pitcher Jace Butler is the only member of last year’s team lost to graduation.
The season opener is Wednesday night against New Palestine, with the first pitch scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on the Panther field. Knightstown plays again Thursday night against Waldron before hitting the road for consecutive games at Blue River and Winchester. The team then returns home on April 12 for a twinbill against Eastern Hancock.
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