The Portal Panthers were unceremoniously left on the outside looking in as teams competed for a Class A state champions last year.
The Panthers needed to finish in the top 16 in the power pole in Class A, but due to a loophole in the GHSA rule book, the Panthers finished just one one-hundredth of a point out of the playoff race.
Portal had a proverbial bone to pick with Lanier County, which ended up in the No. 15 slot. The Bulldogs were originally scheduled to play Claxton in their regular season finale, but cancelled at the last minute. The cancellation proved to be in the team’s best interest as a loss would have been enough to drop Lanier County out of the playoffs. GHSA does not have rules preventing teams from cancelling non-conference games.
However, the Panthers are turning the page on what could have been a historic season for Portal Middle-High School.
The team is in full swing for summer league ball and head coach Dennis Moore said the Panthers are looking promising early.
“We’ve moved on from it,” said Moore about the tough way his team ended their season. “I just told the team that we did all we could, but at the end of the day we probably lost too many games. You just have to look yourself in the mirror and move on.”
The Panthers are returning four starters from last year’s squad including ace pitcher Cole Busby. Busby, who pitched a team-high 51.2 innings last season, will return for his senior year.
Busby recorded a 2.9 ERA for the season.
Hector Diaz, Landon Stephens and Jake Brown also return to the Panthers lineup. Diaz and Brown should provide the bulk of the Panthers’ batting lineup. The duo combined for 66 hits in the spring. Diaz also had a team-high 19 RBIs.
Despite the potential for a powerful top of the order in the Panthers’ lineup, Coach Moore has focused his efforts on the defensive side of the ball.
“I just think in the summer you’re not out there everyday so that makes hitting difficult,” Moore said. “We have been focused on the pitching aspect and Cole Busby, Landon Stephens and Jake Brown have really pitched well for us.”
Stephens pitched 16.1 innings last year with a 2.1 ERA and Brown struck out 15 batters over the course of the season, recording a 2.9 ERA.
The Panthers will travel to the Savannah Country Day tournament where they will play two games on Friday and two games on Saturday.
Moore said the end to last season was tough, but as the Panthers prepare for summer ball to get into full swing, the Panthers head coach said the team can’t take any games for granted once the regular season starts.
“I think what you take from it is that every single game counts and that’s the lesson I want them to learn from this,” Moore said.
Horace Holloman may be reached at (912) 489-9408.