The PIAA Tournament will start next week, and the Strath Haven Panthers won’t be in it. That is the harsh reality faced by a team that won its first 20 games this season and appeared to be on the precipice of a historic run that garnered national attention.
It may not yet be easy to face what is by all measures a premature end to their season. But anyone who’s spent time around this group knows that they at least enjoyed the ride.
If there was a team in the county that was greater than the sum of its parts, it was the Panthers (20-1, 16-0 Central League). You’re talking about an offense that hit .335 and averaged 8.5 runs per game and a pitching staff that allowed just 2.15 runs per. That’s a recipe for sustained excellence.
The Panthers were extremely balanced. They had nine players earn at least 50 plate appearances; the lowest batting average among those was Kevin Bosco’s .246, followed by Matt Raimo’s .281.
The strength though was the pitching staff. Donovan Davis went 9-0. Bosco went 6-1, the only loss being the season-ender. Ashton Raines was a perfect reliever/third pitching option. It was a staff built for a deep postseason run, if they only could’ve figured out North Penn’s Brian Maher.
The senior class was instrumental in the success this season. Rob Straff, Brian Treston and Raimo composed arguably the county’s best outfield. David Splain was the two-hitter and the engine driving the lineup. And of course there was the 1-2 punch of Davis and Bosco. For a team that returned seven starters from 2012, the Panthers made good on their advanced billing, and to a higher degree than anyone may have imagined.
However special this class was, the Panthers aren’t going to be back at square one next year.
For one, Kevin Mohollen is back. The catcher and lead-off man was one of the most dangerous hitters in the county with his .424 average and .586 on-base percentage. With his cannon of an arm and outstanding pitch-receiving skills, it’s hard to believe he’s just a junior; the Division I looks he’s getting, however, are entirely believable and certainly warranted.
But he won’t be alone next year. Second baseman Nate Engleka may have been the nine-hitter this year, but he provided hits in some big spots and could step right into the lineup spot vacated by Splain. Caedon Saltis, the cleanup hitter this year, will also be back, as will James Kantner, who excelled largely as a designated hitter near the bottom of the lineup as a sophomore.
Raines will be the incumbent staff ace, and much of the success of next year’s Panthers will depend on how the staff evolves. To think that the success of 2013 will be a one off, though, underestimates the program Brian Fili and company have built.