They were right there last season.
The Great Bend High School Panthers advanced to a Class 5A sub-state baseball tournament championship game last spring. The Panthers lost to a potent Goddard team 8-0 in the title game, finishing their season at 14-8 overall.
“When you get to the point where you are right there to achieve one of your goals, which is to go to state,” Great Bend head coach Randy Beck said, “and you just can’t reach out and grab it, so I think that kind of left a little sour taste in our mouths and maybe we can use that as momentum this year to get us going.”
The Panthers’ scheduled season-opening doubleheader today at Liberal has been postponed because of inclement weather.
“We’ve been doing a lot of live scrimmaging as of late,” Randy Beck said, “trying to get some good live at-bats and quite a few of those kids have had some quality at-bats — Dakota Conaway, Bryce Beck, Eric Ruiz, Braden Jones and Dillon Reiser.
“We’re loaded with seniors this year, and I think that leadership is going to make a difference.”
Conaway, Bryce Beck, Ruiz and Jones return with more varsity experience than anyone in the GBHS dugout.
“We’ve got a few gap-to-gap hitters,” Randy Beck said, “but mostly, we’re a base-hitting team and we’ve got to execute offensively, move runners and just understand good situational hitting to get our kids in spots to score.
“When we get our speed guys on base, we’re going to try to utilize that speed to get them into scoring position and let our hitters make some good decisions at the plate to get them across.”
Conaway, an honorable mention Western Athletic Conference selection last season, is the top returning player for batting average after hitting .356 last season. He is moving to first base after playing at third a year ago.
Ruiz, who hit .318 last season, will be the everyday catcher. Pitcher/shortstop Bryce Beck hit .293 and Jones, a third baseman/pitcher, batted .292 a year ago.
The Panthers lost three first-team all-conference selections to graduation in Connor Sell (center field), Jace Bowman (second base) and pitcher/left fielder Mitch Kottas. Honorable mention pick and senior Matt Marshall opted to go out for golf this spring.
Bowman and Kottas signed last summer to play baseball for Barton Community College this spring.
“They were steady starters for the last two years,” Randy Beck said of Sell, Bowman and Kottas. “Last year, they batted 1-2-3 in the lineup, so we’re working hard to find guys to fill in and I think we’ve got those guys.”
Bowman hit a team-leading .480 last season (36 for 75) and also led the Panthers in at-bats (75), singles (24), home runs (2) and runs batted in (22).
Kottas had a team-best 5-0 record and 1.91 earned run average as Great Bend’s No. 1 pitcher. At the plate, he had 14 runs batted in and batted .273.
Sell led the team in walks (19), runs scored (28) and doubles (10). Marshall hit .353 — second on the team — and had 16 RBIs — also second on the team.
Bryce Beck pitched 32 innings last season, putting together a 3-2 record with a 3.94 ERA. Jones had a 3-2 mark in 30 innings with a 2.57 ERA.
“Those are our most experienced pitchers coming back from last year,” Randy Beck said. “Bryce Hofmeister will throw a little for us and Dillon Reiser is going to get some mound time.
“Another kid that has been throwing really well is Tristan Hall. We have Mitch Johnson, he’s a guy that we can put out there and throw strikes. We have some options this year.”
There’s speed in the outfield in Johnny Allende, who hit .250 last season, Chad Touslee (.216) and Hofmeister (.167).