The Panthers have already turned their focus toward next year.
While the 2018 season came to an abrupt ending for the Whitman-Hanson Regional High baseball team, veteran skipper Pat Cronin is not shocked it concluded the way did, and is already thinking ahead.
Seeded third in the Division 2 South Sectional tournament, W-H hosted No. 14 Nauset. Unfortunately for the Panthers, they ran into Warriors ace Stephen Kalinick, who was sidelined for most of the spring, which played in to the Warriors’ then 6-12 record. However, the southpaw didn’t skip a beat, shutting the Panthers out 3-0.
“People saw Nauset’s low seed and had no knowledge of their pitcher, who had had a sore arm during most of the season,” Cronin explained. “He was the reason they had one some big games early in the season, and his injury was the reason they lost their last six in a row.
“I had scouted them and knew he was a possibility. Pitching dominates at all levels; he was a dominating pitcher. He beat us and we beat ourselves on defense and at the plate. Disappointing, yes, but once I saw him, not surprised.”
Cronin added, “Whitman-Hanson is already looking forward to next season.”
So, why the optimism out of Cronin after the Panthers’ second straight campaign in which they finished 15-6, which included a first-round exit in the postseason? That would be because despite the disappointing ending, just to get to 15 wins — 13 of which came in the Patriot League as the Panthers grabbed a share of the Keenan Division title for the second consecutive season — was a success in itself.
On the mound, W-H was without its ace — senior captain James Dolan — for all but 1.2 innings due to tendonitis. Dolan was coming off a season in which he won six games and pitched to the tune of a 0.35 ERA over 40.1 innings en route to Keenan Division MVP honors.
The injury thrust junior captain Rian Schwede into the ace role, granted he pitched like one the year prior, and he collected five wins, held hitters to a .172 average and posted a 1.64 ERA. But, Schwede was going to get his innings regardless, but classmate Ethan Phelps likely wouldn’t have. However, Phelps (also hit .300) did, and hurled 36 of them, going 3-0 with a 1.36 ERA.
“Both are now seasoned veterans,” Cronin said.
Both are also captain-elects, were tabbed league all-stars and are part of seven starters set to return next season.
Along with his 1-2 in the rotation, Cronin will return junior second baseman Mike Cook and freshman short stop Danny Kent up the middle.
Cook ranked second on the team with a .394 average and knocked in a team-high 22 runs; he was also named a league all-star for the second consecutive season and is a captain-elect as well.
“He made some incredible plays at second base, and he hit for average and for power,” Cronin said of Cook. “He was almost impossible to throw out on the bases as well.”
Kent was a diamond in the rough type of find as W-H was in need of a short stop, and he was the one to answer the bell.
“We took a chance when we thought Cook would be better at second instead of short, as we had planned to move him there,” Cronin explained. “Once we saw that Kent was mature enough to handle it, we decided it was worth it to start him this year and then have them both next season together in the middle of the infield. We just let Danny play, encouraged him constantly, and tried to keep the pressure off of him. He was amazing all season. Next season he will be a year older and stronger and should be able to handle varsity pitching a little more. I think he eventually will be a very good hitter.”
Junior Derek Frank is another key returnee next season, but not to his right field post, but rather behind the plate, where he’ll have big shoes to fill. Frank, who hit .291 this season, will take over for Ryan Sawtelle. Sawtelle led the team with a .400 average and was named a league all-star.
“He [leaves a big hole] in many ways,” Cronin said of Sawtelle. “His handling of pitchers was impressive and constantly getting even better as the season went on. Most obvious was his hitting; he became a force this year by shortening his swing and being aggressive from the first pitch.
“He will be tough to replace, but we think Derek Frank will be an excellent replacement next season. Derek is an outstanding receiver himself, but did a great job in right field for us this season.”
Junior Will Newell (four RBIs) and freshman Chris Kenney (five RBIs) are the other two starters back in the fold next season.
As for departures, in addition to Sawtelle and Dolan, Caleb Burke (.294 this season) — who manned the hot corner for the last two springs — and starters Korey Howard (3-0, 1.84 ERA, 19 IP) and Jason Green (3-0, 2.30, 24.1) will be missed.
“To accomplish what they had was really quite remarkable given they did it without their ace,” Cronin said. “They have already changed the way W-H baseball is now thought of. Be proud and enjoy it.”