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(PANA) — Members of the defending South Central Conference baseball champions Pana Panthers are, in front from left, Colin Schmitz, Sam Sims, Logan Roberts, Cole File, Brenden Schoonover and Kamden Brown. Middle row, Ryan Karbach, Blayne Pope, Eli Lindsay, Clayton Worker, Austin Karbach and Trayson Cessna. In back, Assistant Coach Gary Bowker, Head Coach Mike Malisia, Evan Swisher, Jaxon Rhoades, Brant Bowker, Drew Hackler, Landon Meadows, Austin Henschen, Bo Christer, JV Coach Brent McKinney and Assistant Coach Denny Pastor.
(Tom Latonis/Breeze-Courier Photo)
(PANA) — How do you improve on the most successful baseball season in Pana High School history? That’s the task before Coach Mike Malisia’s 2022 squad.
The Panthers won the regional for the first time in 20 years and their 7-2 South Central Conference record was good enough to win their first-ever conference crown. Pana finished 17-5 in 2021.
Pana returns five starters from last year, including Even Swisher (C), Ryan Karbach (SS), Bo Christer (P/1B), Brenden Schoonover (CF) and Drew Hackler (LF). Also returning are Austin Henschen, after a year off, has returned and already made an impact in the middle of the order with a three-run homer in a game earlier this season. Senior Austin Karbach, Malisia describes as knowledgeable and smart about the game. He will be a utility player. Other key players will be Brant Bowker, Blane Pope and Jackson Rhodes.
The middle of the lineup will be crucial for the Panthers this season. He says there will be a lot of pop in batters hitting three through six with Henschen, Christer and Hackler. At the top of the lineup will be Schoonover and Karbach who can get on base and cause a lot of havoc.
“We play a lot of small ball to create a lot of havoc on the defense side and then we can use the long ball to drive in runs,” Malisia said. So far this season, in the first two games, Pana has hit a home run, six doubles and 13 singles. “The key to our success this year will be our offense,” said the coach.
He said the defense has been solid so far this season with the speedy Hackler, Henschen and Schoonover. “All three have above average arms,” the coach said.
The unknown is the pitching, according to Malisia. “We don’t have anyone who’s going to blow you away with velocity, but they can control the tempo of the game. that includes keeping runners close, making good pitches, challenge the hitters and rely on our defense to back them up.”
With 20 players on the roster, the coach is currently scheduling more junior varsity games, which will help the team in the long run.
Malisia thinks his Panthers can content for the conference title, but feels there is a lot of competition out there. “Vandalia and Greenville are always going to be the tough opponents in the conference and Gillespie could be right up there. But I see us as the target, having won it last year.”