The Knox Central Panthers are the youngest baseball team in the 13th Region, but that has not stopped them from racking up some valuable wins during the early part of the season. With wins over Harlan County, Clay County and Pulaski County, the Panthers are starting to turn into a legitimate contender.
“In the beginning the kids were getting acclimated to the speed of the game. We’re a team made up of mostly freshmen. They had a lot of success at the middle school level, but it takes time getting acclimated to varsity play,” said Knox Central Coach Brandon Hillard. “They’ve had to learn that what used to be a triple is now a double, and what used to be a double is now a single. They figured out that they had to run a little harder to reach first safely.”
Despite their youth, the Panthers have been on the upswing, as of late, winning five of their last eight games. According to Hillard, their recent success has brought the team a long way in terms of confidence and their approach to the game.
“It has been great for the psyche of the team. They’re starting to understand the approach to practice and that each practice needs to be at a high level,” said Hillard. “It says a lot about them that we were errorless in our last two games, as opposed to the beginning of the season when we were committing a lot of errors.”
As the season has progressed, Hillard has noticed his squad improving in all facets of the game. Even in games they’ve lost, Hillard said his team has gotten better.
“Our approach to the plate is one thing that has gotten better. We were doing a lot of guess work early on, and now we’re putting the bat on the ball as it comes across the plate,” Hillard said. “Even against Harlan County, when we were no-hit, it was hard for me to be disappointed because we were hitting the ball. Their defense helped their pitcher a lot, but, at the end of the game, I was happy with our approach to hitting the ball.”
Much of Knox Central’s success can be attributed to the leadership of their upperclassmen. Juniors Aaron Patterson and Zach Earls, along with senior Dustin Bingham, have all played a big part in helping the young Panthers’ squad progress this season.
“Aaron (Patterson) is a kid who we expected to have a breakout season for us. He has been doing his part to help us win games on the mound. Dustin Bingham has come through for us at the plate; his hitting has really picked up,” said Hillard. “And I don’t think you could find a better center fielder in the region than Zach Earls. His speed and arm have been incredible for us.”
While those around the program realize the potential of the young Panthers’ squad, Hillard said his team is too talented to wait and win. Hillard and his boys want to win now.
“You know, everyone keeps saying how good they’re going to be in a couple years, but one thing we’ve decided is that we want to be good now. Why wait and be good,” Hillard said. “Seeing this year’s Kentucky basketball team was the best thing for them. People let that team off the hook early because of their age. When that happens, you start to take on the mentality of it’s OK to fail because we’re young. These guys are talented and they’re accustomed to winning. They want to win now.”