Panthers eyeing another conference title
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
The surging LaGrange College Panthers are hoping to make it a four-peat.
LaGrange College has won three consecutive USA South tournament championships, and it will begin a quest for a fourth straight title this weekend.
LaGrange College (20-7 overall), which has won 12 straight games, will host Piedmont in a best-of-three series on Saturday and possibly Sunday.
If LaGrange College beats Piedmont, it would play William Peace or North Carolina Wesleyan next weekend in a best-of-three series for the conference title.
The Panthers won the conference championship in 2017, 2018 and 2019, and last year’s tournament was canceled because of COVID-19.
LaGrange College and Piedmont will play a doubleheader on Saturday at 2 p.m., and if needed, a third game would be played on Sunday at 2 p.m.
LaGrange College finished the regular season with a 12-1 conference record, and that included three road wins over Piedmont last weekend.
After winning the first two games 11-1 and 15-7, LaGrange College outlasted Piedmont 6-5 in the final game.
Piedmont did take two of three from LaGrange College in a series late in March.
LaGrange College finished first in the USA South’s West division, while Piedmont is second.
In the East division, North Carolina Wesleyan earned the top seed, and William Peace is second.
The Panthers are a complete team.
LaGrange College has a USA South-leading .318 team batting average, and every member of the every-day lineup has an average of .308 or better.
That includes Cael Chatham who is hitting .374 with six home runs and 30 RBIs, and McKinley Erves has a .367 average with three home runs and 31 RBIs.
Joe Ruth boasts a .355 batting average with three home runs and 31 RBIs and a team-best 37 runs scored, and he’s also tops on the team with 14 doubles.
Ruth and Erves are tied for the team lead in RBIs.
Rhett Hebert is hitting .344 with 12 RBIs, and Trey Pearce has a .333 batting average with two home runs and 30 RBIs.
Rhett Mixon and E.J. Churchich both have .316 batting averages, and Churchich has three home runs, nine doubles, and 28 RBIs.
Jack Layrisson is hitting .308 with four home runs and 23 RBIs.
Pitching-wise, the Panthers have a team earned run average of 3.86.
The two most consistent starters have been Baley Coleman and Dalton Brooks, who have a combined 10 wins.
Coleman is 6-3 with a 3.20 ERA, and Brooks is 4-1 with a 3.65 ERA.
The Panthers have a deep and talented bullpen, led by Jack Richards, who in eight appearances has a stellar 0.51 ERA with a 2-0 record and one save.
Spencer Douches leads the team with 12 appearances, and he has a 2.95ERA with four saves and a 2-1 record.
Brett Caneega has a 2.00 ERA while appearing in 10 games, and he is 1-0 with one save.
Tanner Chafin has a 2.92 ERA in nine appearances, and Ethan Fry (3.18 ERA) and Michael Menheart (3.31 ERA) have also excelled out of the bullpen.
Leading the way is head coach David Kelton, who is in his eighth season leading the program.
Since the start of the 2016 season, the Panthers are 164-61, and they appeared in the NCAA Division III tournament three straight years beginning in 2017.