Published: Mar 02, 2012 02:36 PM
Modified: Mar 02, 2012 03:07 PM
CARY - The Athens Drive and Panther Creek baseball teams opened the 2012 season with a Tri-Nine Conference game under rookie head coaches directing programs with vastly different histories.
Athens Drive is a traditional power known as the alma mater of Josh Hamilton, the 2010 American League MVP for the Texas Rangers. Ryan Westbrook, promoted from the JV coach, is charged with the task of maintaining the Jaguars status.
Theres pressure because this is a great program thats always won and this is a tough conference, Westbrook said. But one advantage is Ive been here eight years. Ive coached these for kids two and three years and now some of them for a fourth. I know their strengths and weaknesses. We just have to keep working hard.
Meanwhile, Panther Creek head coach Dan Hall arrived as an assistant from Durham Jordan hired to turn around a program that has never posted a winning season. This is his first experience as a head coach.
Well, the opener didnt play out according to history as Panther Creek shut out Athens Drive 3-0 Wednesday on the Catamounts field.
Our goal is to have a winning season, and to be honest with you, we want to win the conference, Hall said. We dont want to settle for the middle. We have 10 seniors on this team and they want to leave their mark.
They were successful as young fellows and then werent so successful when some of them moved up to the varsity. Now theyre all together again as a group and they want this to be their year.
The Catamounts displayed pitching, defense and timely hitting in the win.
Senior Daniel DElia and senior Nate Harris combined to pitch a five-hit shutout with DElia working the first five innings.
The Catamounts turned two double plays and catcher Alex Malinsky threw out a runner trying to steal second base.
One DP was a traditional 4-6-3 that erased Eric Berger after his one-out single in the sixth inning.
The other DP was a diving backhanded stab of a sinking line drive by sophomore third baseman Trevor Howard. He scrambled to his feet and threw out the runner who was overly committed to second base.
Howard, in his first varsity game, was 2-for-2 with a single and double and two runs scored. He batted ninth, which might have some parents second-guessing the rookie head coach, but Hall explained it was by design.
I like the No. 9 guy to be like a second leadoff batter," Hall said. "It jump-starts the top of the order."
Howard led off the third inning with a single, advanced to second when a sacrifice bunt attempt by senior shortstop Jeff Pegram was mishandled into an error and scored along with Pegram on a wind-blown double to right field by senior first baseman Thomas Young.
In the fifth, Howard doubled. Athens Drive centerfielder Justin Christian had chased down six fly balls for the game, but Howards hit was in the gap to left-center. Howard advanced to third on a ground ball to second base by junior Jordan Coatney and scored on a sacrifice fly ball by to center field by Pegram.
I batted third or fourth on JVs, but coach told me he wanted to try something, Howard said. He wanted to see what I could do with it.
Malinsky, who said he plans to commit to Penn State when Nittany Lions coaches visit later this spring, said Hall has developed new optimism in the program.
Hes brought a lot of energy to practice, Malinsky said. We work hard with the time that we have, and I think it showed with the way we played. We looked pretty good.