baseball coach Dave Collenback had a special feeling this would be a special season for his Panthers.
"There were a lot of returners from last year," he told Fox29 News
last week. "They had a taste in their mouth of what they wanted to do this year."
They've tasted something completely new this season – a journey past the third round of the Texas 5A playoffs — and now they'll be playing for a 5A regional championship Friday against
The Panthers reached the finals with a tight 2-1 win over United (Laredo) Saturday thanks to a nifty five-hitter spun by Justin Garcia
, who struck out five and walked one.
O'Connor added 10 hits, all singles, including run-scoring clips from Daniel Cruz
in the fourth to tie the game at 1 and the eventual game-winning single from Kent Corso
Garcia (11-1, 1.14 ERA) filled in for ace and MLB prospect Mark Ecker (7-2, 1.19), who was experiencing arm trouble according to the San Antonio Express-News
. Garcia was superb, according to Collenback, and the Panthers were solid behind him. They made just one error under soggy conditions.
"We didn't do anything fancy," Collenback told Express-News reporter Pat Turner. "We just played baseball the way it should be played."
For doing just that all season — the Panthers are 30-7-2 — and for reaching new heights in the program's 14-year history, Collenback has been picked as the San Antonio High Yield Coach of the Year presented by Capital One Bank.
Though O'Connor was solid on Saturday, Collenback said the Panthers, with 12 seniors on the roster, draw big crowds with their flash, bats and speed.
They're hitting a whopping .354 as a team and have blasted a whopping 36 home runs, led by junior outfielder
(12 homers, 41 RBIs, .377 average).
On top of his pitching prowess, the 6-1, 191-pound Ecker has seven home runs with team-bests of 48 RBIs and a .435 average.
Other strong hitters have been Zachary Davenport
(.375, team-best 46 runs), Jose Rodriguez
(.356, 12 doubles), Garcia (.413, 11 doubles, 36 RBIs) and Corso (.398, seven home runs, 42 RBIs).
The team has also stolen 52 bases in 69 attempts, led by 17 from Davenport. Add to that a team ERA of 2.69 and it's easy to understand why the Panthers have enjoyed an historic season.
It hasn't hurt that most of the seniors have played together since they were in Little League, which has translated to superb team chemistry. It also doesn't hurt to have a coach of the quality of Collenback, who has won 162 games in seven seasons.
"I think the team is exciting to watch," Collenback said. "I've had several people call or text me and tell me they enjoyed how we play ball."