Losing only four seniors to graduation, the Great Bend High School Panthers baseball team entertains some high expectations entering the 2011 campaign.
Last year, Great Bend finished Class 5A regional play with an 8-12 record, although it came on strong in the postseason and ultimately advanced to the state tournament.
“We played really well late in the season, which is the time to really mesh together as a team and play your best ball,” Great Bend head coach Randy Beck said. “We beat Hays in the first round at regionals and then we played Hutch in the regional championship game and beat them.
“That put us as the No. 7 seed at the state tournament and we played Topeka-Seaman, which was eventually the state champs. We lost 5-4 (in the first round) in a well-played baseball game by both teams.”
The Panthers developed some late-season confidence, showing that they could play with anyone.
“I think we proved that,” Beck said. “We got hot at the end of the season and our pitchers we’re throwing a lot of strikes. Towards the end of the season, our starting pitchers were either throwing complete games or going very deep into games.
“We have eight starters plus several role players coming back that were in the lineup. We lost four seniors from last year, but so far in practice, our seniors have stepped up and showed some really good leadership. We’ve gotten better and improved every day.”
As GBHS embarks on season-opening play this week, Beck says he isn’t sure what his team’s strength will be. Because of the inclement weather as of late, the Panthers have been forced inside, where they have kept their arms limbered while also facing live pitching in the batting cages at the Panther Athletic Complex.
“I can’t really say what our strong point is right now until we really get into the games,” Beck said. “I think we’re really going to be pretty solid at the plate and we’re going to have pitchers that throw a lot of strikes.”
Great Bend lost top hitter Brett McManaman, a first-team All-Western Athletic Conference selection, to graduation, along with pitchers Ryan Schmitt and Robbie Underwood and outfielder/pitcher Conner Williams.
Schmitt posted a team-best 3-3 record in a team-high 41 2/3 innings pitched. He had a 5.21 earned run average.
Leading the returnees is switch-hitting shortstop Logan Buehler, also a first-team all-conference pick last season. Buehler hit .351, second only to McManaman’s team-leading batting .417 average. McManaman led the Panthers in triples (6), runs batted in (18), on-base percentage (.527) and slugging percentage (.650).
Buehler, who will return to the leadoff spot in the batting order this season, had a .429 slugging percentage and a .412 on-base percentage. He led the team in singles (22), doubles (4) and runs (21).
Buehler, who suffered a season-ending foot injury during football season, is fully recovered and figures to be a catalyst for the Panthers on the diamond.
“I would say that Logan is probably the leader of the team right now,” Beck said. “Our expectations are really high and we want to win. No. 1 on our list is a WAC championship. It’s been three years now.
“Dodge City won it last year and Hays won it the year before. It’s time for us to get back in the lead there. We have been pretty successful over the years and have a lot of tradition.”
Returning starters include Buehler, centerfielder Conner Sell, third baseman/pitcher Darien Blackwill, first baseman Jeff Pike, second baseman/pitcher Jace Bowman, outfielder/pitcher Mitch Kottas, catcher Landon Leuenberger and pitcher Nick Ney. Other part-time starters include infielder/pitcher Matt Marshall and outfielder Cole Smith.
“We’ve got a few kids with a little pop in their bats, but we’re more of a base hit, running-type team where we move runners and score runners,” Beck said.
Blackwill batted .311 and had 12 RBIs, which was second on the team, to go along with a .389 on-base percentage for second on the team. Leuenberger hit .271 and totaled 15 base hits. Bowman hit .250 and had a .339 on-base percentage.
“Darien Blackwill has got some pretty good pop in his bat and Mitch Kottas has some pretty good pop,” Beck said. “Cole Smith hits the ball pretty well, and I anticipate Matt Marshall is also going to be a player where if he’s hitting the ball, we’re going to find a spot for him.
“Jace is a solid kid. He is very good defensively, and we’re going to have to see some time from him on the mound. He pitched very little last year, but he’s going to have to step up and give us some innings.”
Ney has been pegged as the No. 1 starting pitcher after posting a 2-4 record in 31 2/3 innings last season. He had a 4.20 ERA and limited opposing hitters to a .196 average.
“Nick Ney was our No. 1 last year and he’s our No. 1 guy,” Beck said. “Mitch Kottas is another kid. Those two are probably right now the most consistent on the mound and I’m looking for them to be starters.
“(Left-hander) Conner Sell will probably end up being a starter, and Matt Marshall is going to get a lot of mound time. Darien Blackwill is going to have to give us some innings, and Stefan Bennett, a senior, is going to have to give us some innings. We’ve got four to six guys that we can put on the mound with confidence.”
Great Bend High School
2011 baseball schedule
Today — LARNED, 4 p.m.
April 2 — At Junction City, 11 a.m.
April 5 — At Liberal, 4 p.m.
April 7 — HOISINGTON, 4 p.m.
April 15 — At Scott City, 4 p.m.
April 21 — HAYS, 4 p.m.
April 26 — At Word of Life (Wichita), 4:30 p.m.
May 3 — DODGE CITY, 4 p.m.
May 5 — TMP-MARIAN, 4 p.m.
May 10 — At Garden City, 4 p.m.
May 16-19 — Class 5A Regional Tournament, TBA
May 27-28 — Class 5A State Tournament
HOME GAMES IN ALL CAPS
ALL ARE DOUBLEHEADERS
1 Conner Sell, OF-P, Jr.; 2 Logan Buehler, SS, Sr.; 3 Mitch Johnson, OF/P So.; 4 Andrew Koster, C/P, Jr.; 5 Darien Blackwill, 3B/P, Sr.; 6 Taylor Turner, OF/P, So,; 7 Patrick McCluskey, INF, Sr,.; 10 Brent Stoss, OF, Sr.; 11 Sam Hafner, 2B/OF, Sr.; 12 Stefan Bennett, 13 Daniel Herrman, INF, So.; 14 Jeff Pike, 1B, Sr.; 15 Jace Bowman, 2B/P, Jr.; 16 Dakota Conaway, INF, So.; 18 Matt Marshall, INF-P, So.; 19 Gabe Joiner, C, So.; 20 Mitch Kottas, OF/P, Jr.; 23 Cole Smith, OF, Sr.; 24 Landon Leuenberger, C, Sr.; 25 Chad Touslee, INF, So.; 26 Braden Jones, INF/P, So.; 27 Bryce Hofmeister, OF/P, So.; 30 Nick Ney, P/OF, Sr.; 31 Dallas Schmeidler, OF, So.; 34 Eric Ruiz, C/P, So.; 35 Wyatt Bayless, INF/P, So.; 43 Ethan Henderson, OF, So.; 45 Trey Munsch, INF, Jr.