Off to a 3-1 start, the Panthers are paired against Loyola as the Louisiana Prep Classic gets under way Thursday afternoon.

Sterlington is among 12 host sites for the annual Trey Altick Louisiana Prep Baseball Classic, which starts Thursday and runs through Sunday.

Sponsored by Dr. Collins Coon and Altick Dermatology, this year's tournament field consists of 46 teams from throughout the state as well as a squad from Texas. Besides Panther Park, other small school tournament venues include St. Frederick, Cedar Creek, Ouachita Christian, Mangham, Delhi Charter and Choudrant. Big school pools will be played at Neville, West Ouachita, Ouachita, Ruston and West Monroe.

Sterlington will be the scene of the Vantage Health Plans/Progressive Bank pool. The Panthers will play Loyola on Thursday at 6 p.m., Riverside on Friday at 5:30 p.m., University on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and Caldwell on  Saturday at 5:30.

A Class 3A quarterfinalist last season, Loyola went 3-0 in the Northwestern State University Tournament last weekend. Casey Sutton will get the call on the mound for the Panthers.

As for the Panthers' pitching plans for the remainder of the tournament, Sterlington coach Randy Carr said, "We'll play it by ear."

Riverside defeated Sterlington 4-2 in the second round of the playoffs en route to a state runner-up finish. Tate Scioneaux, who now pitches for LSU-Eunice, retired the first 19 batters, before settling for a two-hitter as the Rebels eliminated the Panthers from the playoffs.

University was a Class 2A quarterfinalist last season.

“The competition is going to pick up for us this weekend, so we better be ready to play,” Carr said.

Though fans are advised to dress warmly, the weekend weather forecast calls for sunny skies.

“We've been blessed with sunshine for every home weekend, so far,” Carr said. “We'll knock on wood and hope it continues for us. I'm looking for some great baseball in the Vantage Health Plans/Progressive Bank pool.”

Sterlington brings a 3-1 mark into the tournament.

Opening the season in the Oak Grove/Delhi Charter Tournament, the Panthers thrashed Franklin Parish 14-4 in six innings on Thursday, Feb. 21, lost to Oak Grove 2-1 on Friday, Feb. 22, and blanked Bastrop 3-0 on Saturday.

Casey Sutton fired a complete game five-hit shutout against Bastrop. Throwing an efficient 84 pitches in the seven-inning contest, Sutton struck out 10 without issuing a walk.

Elliott Courson led the Panthers offensively in the tournament, batting .375 and drawing a pair of walks without a single strikeout.

Taylor Lockwood also had a solid tournament, banging a pair of doubles and stealing six bases.

“He's going to be tough to throw out,” Carr said of Lockwood. “He's something else running the bases.”

Sterlington has its opportunities against Oak Grove, but could not get the timely hit.

“We left 12 guys in scoring position against Oak Grove and it came back to bite us,” Carr said. “We struck out too much, especially with runners in scoring position.”

As might be expected in the early stage of the season, Carr saw room for improvement.

“We did some good things,” Carr said early Tuesday afternoon. “If I would have had to grade us, I would give us a C-minus. We were thinking too much and not playing enough. We have to improve in a hurry and we should because we have a veteran team.”

Carr didn't have to wait long to see significant progress as the Panthers routed St. Frederick 17-1 Tuesday night.

“We hit the ball very, very well and we did not strike out a lot,” Carr said. “We put the ball in play and good things happened for us.”

Kyle Dolecheck launched a three-run home run, Kyle Vandergracht tagged a three-run double and leadoff batter Austin Mills scored three runs to lead the Panthers offensively.

“Even our outs were hard outs,” Carr said. “What a difference from the weekend. It was just a matter of being more focused at the plate and having a plan at the plate.”

Austin Haman worked three scoreless innings for the win, while Tyler Buffington allowed an unearned run in two innings of relief.

“We got great pitching from both of them,” Carr said. “They threw strikes and let us make plays defensively.”