The Panthers return their top two pitchers as they aim for a third straight Patriot League Keenan Division title.
It’s no secret. The Whitman-Hanson Regional High baseball is propelled by its arms.
In senior captains Ethan Phelps and Rian Schwede, the Panthers, winners of back-to-back Patriot League Keenan Division titles, return their top arms from last spring.
“I’m optimistic,” said head coach Pat Cronin, who enters the season with 467 career wins. “You’re always happy when you have your No. 1 and No. 2 pitchers returning.”
Schwede, a four-year varsity player, is the ace. The Endicott-bound right hander pitched to the tune of a 1.64 ERA over 51 1/3 innings last season.
“He’s the main guy,” Cronin said. “He’s as good as anybody in the league. It’s extremely impressive what he does. I have a lot of confidence in him.”
Phelps is one of the best No. 2s around. He posted a 1.36 ERA over 36 innings last spring.
“I’ve watched him grow a lot,” Cronin said. “He just loves the game of baseball. I’ve seen him mature mentally and physically since he was a freshman.”
Cronin said senior Sean Mackay, junior Devin Coulstring and sophomore Thomas Marshall will all likely log some innings on the bump as well.
But for the Panthers, who have been bounced in the first round of the tournament the past two years, to take the next step, their hitting must take it to the next level. Cronin said he’s already seen an improved approach.
“They’re swinging the bats how some of my really good teams have swung the bats,” Cronin said. “I’m optimistic.”
At the end of last season, Cronin challenged then-freshman starting shortstop Danny Kent to become a better hitter. Cronin said he has.
“When we went into the batting cages at the end of the year, I said, ‘Look, this is what you have to do. You got to develop a big swing, you got to turn around the head of the bat, you got to stay behind the ball and you got to catch the ball in front,’” said the coach. “He’s now swinging the bat like a veteran. What a difference.”
Two-time Patriot League All-Star, senior captain Mike Cook, is the centerpiece of the lineup. The Babson-bound second baseman knocked in a team-high 22 runs and hit .394 last season. He also stole 19 bases, which tied for the team lead.
“He’s another key guy for us,” Cronin said. “He can slide, is good defensively and a leader. We will present some problems if we get on.”
Phelps (.300 and 19 steals last season) and senior Derek Frank (.291 and 10 RBIs) will set the table for Cook. Frank moves from the right field, where he starred, to catcher. Schewde will hit fourth with Kent in the five hole.
“We have a good nucleus coming back,” Cronin said. “They were all on varsity last season. I’m confident in that group.”
Junior lefty Chris Zalewski with probably hit sixth and play third base, Coulstring is likely to hit seventh and play in right field, senior Will Newell will play in left an probably hit eighth with junior Robbie Nicholson rounding out the lineup and playing first base.
The Panthers do have their share of key losses from last season, including league all-star and catcher Ryan Sawtelle (hit team-high .400), Jimmy Dolan (hit .317) and Korey Howard (3-0 with 1.84 over 19 IP).
W-H will also set out for its third straight Patriot League Keenan Division title this season.
“If you’re not playing for the championship from Day 1, you’re never going to understand what it’s going to mean to be a program,” Cronin said. “These guys have come off three out of the past two years winning back to back championships, so they’re already way out there.”
The Panthers begin the season with a home game against league foe Scituate Monday, April 8 at 4 p.m.
“I’m looking for us to hopefully we can hit the baseball,” Cronin said. “That’s going to give us the opportunity to grow. I’m looking for them to come out and swing the bats. I pretty much can guarantee you that we’re going to play good defense and with Schwede and Phelps, we’re always in the game.”