By Ray Hamill — If the McKinleyville Panthers are going to repeat as Big 5 champions on the baseball field this spring, they’re going to need a number of younger players to step up and grasp their opportunity.
In head coach Scott St. John’s words, “this is not last year’s team,” although the cupboard is far from bare and the Panthers are still poised to make some serious noise when the season gets under way.
The concern, however, is who is going to step up and fill the void of a number of departed seniors from last year’s championship winning squad.
“We’ve just got a lot of question marks that we’ve got to come up with answers for,” St. John said after watching his team scrimmage St. Bernard’s on Tuesday. “Right now we’re looking for some guys to step up and take their opportunity and do something positive out there.”
The Panthers have at least two things in their favor.
They have some quality options on the mound and arguably the best coaching staff in the Big 5.
Returning conference MVP pitcher Cameron Saso is expected to lead the way and continue on from his outstanding season a year ago, both on the mound and at shortstop.
Junior Corbin Eichin also is expected to be a force on the mound, as well as providing some versatility defensively at first base and in the outfield.
The big question right now, however, is whether the Panthers’ defense can support the pitching.
“We’ve got two of the best pitchers in the Big 5 coming back,” St. John said. “That’s a plus, but we’ve got to be able to play defense behind them.”
Senior Jake Reeser is expected to provide a steady hand on defense, and was, according to his coach, “a great defensive outfielder for us last year.”
Seniors Jack Patton and Kyler Carr are also expected to lead the way.
Patton pitched “some pretty solid inning for us last year,” the coach said, and will take over the closer role this spring.
The talented Carr will switch from centerfield to catcher.
Junior T-Ryan Stumph and senior Mason Hooven, among others, will be given the opportunity to step up and fill a bigger role on this year’s team.
A lack of numbers aren’t helping matters for the Panthers, with just 12 players on the roster, including four sophomores.
McKinleyville is scheduled to open the season in a doubleheader at home to Willits on Saturday, with first pitch set for 11 a.m.