Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

SPORTS>> Panther baseball aims for playoffs

BY RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers embark upon the 2005 baseball season with hopes of getting back to the playoffs. The Panthers missed the postseason last year after going in six previous seasons.

Cabot coach Jay Fitch believes this team has the potential to accomplish that goal, although the top of the AAAAA-East will be very strong this year.

“I think the front-runners would have to be Jonesboro and Searcy,” Fitch said. “Both of those teams have an awful lot coming back. And you can never count out Sylvan Hills coming back up from AAAA. They’ve got a ton of tradition and are always going to be very strong. It’s going to be a battle for the playoffs this year.”

Fitch will be looking to junior Tim Payne to take the spot at the top of the Panther pitching rotation. Payne was the No. 2 man last year, and has added more command and more versatility to his repertoire this year.

“He’ll be the No. 1 guy and we’re expecting good things from him,” Fitch said. “This is a kid who is already getting some college looks and has the potential to be very good.”

Ryan Cotroneo will start out as the No. 2 pitcher and will be the starting shortstop when not on the mound. Addison Brinkman will also get time on the mound, and will play right field.

Sophomore Colin Fuller has also impressed the head coach, and could see some time on the mound in varsity action.
“He throwing in the low 80s with good command, so we’ll definitely see him in varsity games and could see him up there quite a bit,” Fitch said.

Anthony McConnell, a junior who transferred from Alabama, could also throw for Cabot and see time at right field.
Center and left field are solid positions for the Panthers. Senior Neil Hatcher, a two-year starter, will start at left field and likely leadoff the Cabot batting order.

Juniors Bronson Britt and Jake Robertson look solid in centerfield as well.

Last year’s starting catcher, Kyle West, has missed most of the offseason with injuries, and will yield his starting role to Bryant Bulice to start the season. Fitch says Bulice has been a solid catcher, but we can still expect to see West in the lineup.
“We’re going to keep his stick in the lineup purely for the power potential,” Fitch said of West. “He hasn’t been cleared to catch, but we feel comfortable there. We still want him swinging though.”

Another power hitter that Fitch has been pleased with is first baseman Chris Gross. Gross saw limited time last year, but has dropped 25 to 30 pounds and added strength and quickness to his game.

“I’m extremely pleased and very excited about Chris,” Fitch said. “He’s another one that provides us with a serious power threat, and his weight loss and work he’s put in really helps his quickness and first base.”

Second base will mostly be filled by Kyle Stoner and Casey Carlisle. Stoner is also serviceable catcher if needed behind the plate.

With a solid lineup, Fitch believes this team’s success lies in fulfilling its potential.

“We have a lot of senior who, as juniors, didn’t have the kind of year they maybe could have. I think if this year they’re able to reach their potential, this is a pretty successful team.”