Baseball Panthers Hope to Dominate Conference in 2017

Pitchers have taken the mound and the team has begun holding practice in preparation for their 2017 season.
(O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Angela Simmons)

O’FALLON – The O’Fallon Varsity Baseball team is poised to have a good 2017 season. Coming off of their 2016 season where they went 33-6, won first place in conference with a 12-2 record and lost the IHSA Sectional Final, they’re ready to get back to playing hard and chasing the IHSA title.

Baseball Panthers Head Coach Jason Portz said “Our preseason work has been outstanding this year. We have an outstanding groups of seniors and returning varsity players, along with a combination of new varsity players that will provide us an opportunity to compete for a Southwestern Conference Championship and a deep run in the IHSA post season. This team has as much pitching depth as any team that we have had over the course of my years as a head coach. We have five or six guys that we feel can be quality varsity starters and as many as 10 or 11 arms that could help us win baseball games in limited roles as relievers, starters and guys who develop at the JV level. Offensively this team will have 11 or 12 guys who will be able to be quality varsity bats. We will have a great combination of speed on the bases and guys that will be able to provide power to our batting order. I have been as happy with the work our kids have put in this off season as any other year. Our kids, freshman – senior have put in a substantial amount of time and effort that is starting to show on the field with their skills and ability. By all indications 2017 will another successful season. Panther baseball has won the southwestern conference eight of the last 11 years and been in the elite eight on five occasions in that time frame. This teams expectations are to work to accomplish those same goals.”

Senior catcher Chase Hackstadt will be called upon to continue utilizing his strong leadership skills. “He is an outstanding defensive catcher and leader. Chase will be counted on to lead our pitching staff as well as be a formidable figure in our dugout and around practice,” Portz said.

Portz will be looking for strength out of his bullpen and has high conference hopes for juniors Logan Boente, Hayden Juenger, Brayden Arnold and developing pitcher Adam Drewry, as well as seniors Justin Dye and Heath Zuber and sophomore Luke Gasser whomee says has one of the most improved arms in the program. Juenger pitches at 85-88 miles per hour and Arnold pitches around 90 miles per hour, and both also play at second base or shortstop.

At first base, Portz is depending on senior Joe Guithues. “Joe is as scrappy as they com. He doesn’t give up at bats and can compete with the best of them. Joe will see time this year at first and as a designated hitter.”

The Panthers have numerous options for second base, shortstop and third.  Sophomore Josh Gibson looks to play an important role. Returning after starting at second base his freshman year, Portz noted Gibson was the “first freshman I have had play every game for our varsity. Is one of our best athletes. Runs extremely well, has a strong arm and has the potential to be a 400+ hitter. He’ll likely hit at the top of our order this year.” Gibson has already been tapped to play for Missouri State University when he graduates.

Gibson is in good company with fellow second basemen and shortstop players junior Nathan Martin who Portz called the most improved player, senior Dominic Smiley who Portz said “runs well and could crack the lineup as a defensive addition to our team.”  Junior Jacob Dreyer will also see time in the positions, as well as at first.

The Panthers will also have a good crew in the outfield, including senior Hayden Schaefer, who’s committed to McKendree University. Portz said “He’s an impact player on our team, and will be one of the top players in the league and St. Louis area – Hit .452 with 1-2b, 1-3b, 3-HR last year in limited time as a junior, and transitioned last year from a backup infielder to and everyday outfielder….when Hayden jumped in our lineup last year our team took off. He’s a very athletic, dynamic player and will be our everyday center fielder.”

Schaefer’s company in the outfield will include senior Jordan Richardson and juniors Nick Boone, Caleb Shelton, Quinn Lowery and Christian Keochner.

The team starts their season on Wednesday March 15 against Alton Marquette. The game will be held at 4:30 p.m. Gordon Moore Park in Alton. The Panthers’ first home game will be part of the Kick Off Classic, and will be on Friday March 17 at 4 p.m. at Blazier Field.

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