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Fieldcrest baseball coach Mark Brown has experience returning in the most critical position — pitcher.
The Knights return their top two pitchers from last year’s squad in seniors Brandon Holst and Nick Panzica.
“Brandon Holst has been throwing for us since his freshman year. He had some high points and low points last year, but I think he’s a solid baseball kid and we’re looking for him to have a really good year this year,” Brown said. “Nick Panzica is just a competitor and a great baseball kid. He knows the game well and won some really big games for us last year.
“Those two pitched the bulk of our big games the last 2-3 years. Hopefully, that experience pays off their senior year.”
After the top two, there are no certainties on the pitching staff. Senior Brady Sanders, junior Jordan Cochran and sophomore Ryan Barth are all expected to log innings.
“Like every coach says, ‘As long as we throw strikes we’re going to be good,’ but I really think we have pitchers who understand the game and what we’re trying to accomplish with getting ahead and working strike zones and stuff like that,” Brown said.
Holst and Panzica are also expected to be key contributors offensively.
Holst will likely lead off with Sanders to follow. Panzica will be in the No. 3 slot, Cochran will bat cleanup and Ryan Barth will hit in the No. 5 hole.
“We’re not going to impress anybody with power,” Brown said. “I think Nick Panzica probably has the biggest bat as far as power is concerned. Jordan Cochran came on late for us last year. He has some pop in his bat, but we’re going to have to rely on small ball, putting the ball in play, putting runners in motion and generating offense that way.”
Defensively, Panzica will play shortstop when he’s not pitching, while Holst will play outfield and first base when he’s not on the mound.
Sanders moves from right field to catcher, Ryan Barth will play third base and Cochran will be at first.
Rounding out the defense is Jordan Henkel in center field, Jack McDonough in left field and Drew Barth in right. Jonathan Panzica will play second base. Drew Barth may also see time at shortstop and may see some innings on the mound.
“I think we’ll be alright up the middle,” Brown said. “Not being outside — we’re in the same boat as everybody else — there’s some question marks, but with the guys who played this summer, I’m looking for us to have a pretty solid defense.” Brown said he thinks El Paso-Gridley and Tri-Valley will be contenders in the Heart of Illinois Conference.
“I think the conference is going to be pretty balanced this year,” Brown said. “There are going to be a lot of teams that are a lot alike. I think we’re going to be young as a conference.”
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.
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