Pelham looks to make big bounce-back in 2024

Published 5:27 pm Friday, February 16, 2024

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By TYLER RALEY | Special to the Reporter

The Pelham Panthers are looking to have a big turnaround season, and the team believes that they have the ability to make some noise in 2024.

After posting just a five-win season in 2023, Sean Anderson and his players are optimistic for what is to come after how the preseason has been going.

“I’m looking forward to this year,” Anderson said. “I’ve got a great group of leadership from our seniors and a good mix of young guys along with them. We’re looking forward to this year. We’re having fun at practice and a lot more good practices than bad practices, so that’s a good thing.

Those practices have been filled with many points of focus, and a main one has been finishing off close games to secure a win. Anderson said that about half of the team’s losses came in games in which they lost by one or two runs.

For the Panthers, that is a main facet of the game that they are looking to improve on as they transition into the new season.

“We had a competitive year, we just couldn’t find a way to win at the end of a game,” Anderson said. “We were in so many games last year that one play here or one inning here sealed a fate for us. We’re looking for these guys to guide us through that, lead us through that, the ones that have been there, the young ones and the older ones.”

Even with the big goal to reverse the woes that they had last year, not much is changing overall with the team’s identity. In fact, Anderson says that the program’s mindset is still the exact same as it was when he took over as head coach years ago.

“Our philosophy hasn’t changed since coach White and I took over in 2013,” Anderson said. “We try to play every pitch as hard as we can and we don’t worry about the next pitch until that pitch is over, and then we move on to the next one. It’s the buy-in of the kids on that philosophy of how we want to approach the game.”

Anderson believes that his kids are doing an excellent job of following that mindset. Seeing them train in the present moment has given him optimism that this team has what it takes to create some noise this year.

To go along with that, he believes that his defensive talent has been a major high point of the preseason work that the team has put in, and that will roll over into the regular season.

“Defensively, I think we’re going to be very good,” Anderson said. “With everybody going to turf fields these days, it makes defense a whole lot easier. When we get on those natural surfaces is where we’ve really got to remember our fundamentals and fielding.”

Most of that talent comes from the seven-member senior class that the team has on its roster, and Anderson is really proud of what they have done as leaders over the course of both the preseason and their careers.

He believes that they will shine on the field this year.

“Probably number one is going to be Clayton Mains,” Anderson said. “He is our center fielder. He’s been playing varsity ball since halfway through his sophomore year and was with us on the run in ’22, so we’re looking for him to step up. Lance Sulprizio and Emerson Howatt are two other seniors that saw playing time last year that we’re looking for good guidance and leadership from. Brock Isbell, as well as Matt Egan, who both saw some playing time last year that they’re going to step into a leadership role as well.

“They’ve kind of taken the reins and taken a lot off the coaching staff just by what they do with our younger guys and how they guide them.”

The team has high hopes that that leadership and training will translate into a lot of competitiveness throughout the season, especially in the area games against Briarwood and McAdory. Anderson understands that the games can play out in many different ways, but wants his team to fight for every play so that they can stay optimistic.

“Ideally we’d like two sweeps, but we know that’s not always possible in baseball,” Anderson said. “The older I get and the longer I’ve been in this, whether you win or lose, if you can complete a game where you’ve been competitive in all facets of the game, win or lose you’ve done your job. Sometimes the ball bounces your way and sometimes it doesn’t.”

He hopes, though, for his team and this senior class, that they can experience the joy of success and the special atmosphere of the postseason competition.

“I’d love for these guys to get into the playoffs and make another run,” Anderson said. “When you get into the playoffs, it’s a different feel. The atmosphere, the community, everybody starts coming out that may not have come out and watched you during the season. For those kids to be able to enjoy that and what we went through in ‘22, to have these kids go through something like that again would be at the top of my list for these guys.”