Sterlington Baseball Report
Far removed from the cheers of the first state championship in program history, the Sterlington Panthers have played their usual summer schedule in virtual obscurity.
Turning the page on the championship season has been the easy part. It's saying goodbye to the senior class that hasn't been so easy.
For coach Mark Sims, the reality has hit home that he will never again write the names of Jacob Barr, Dalton Dopson and Spencer Davis on his lineup card. All three were fixtures in the Panthers' starting nine for four years — Barr in center field, Dopson at third base and Davis as a right-handed pitcher and part-time first baseman.
"Sometimes it seems odd looking out there and not seeing them," Sims admitted. "But that's the good thing about playing in the summer. You have a chance to find some replacements."
Junior Luke Denman, who started in left field during the Panthers' stretch run, has moved into Barr's center field spot.
Sterlington has a potential four-year starter at third base following the departure of Dopson, an All-State honoree and ULM signee. Freshman Seaver Sheets has started for the varsity this summer.
The good news is only two position players are missing from the lineup that started the state championship game.
"We should be good defensively with all but two coming back," Sims said.
Davis, the Class 2A Player of the Year, leaves a huge void. Several candidates are vying to join junior right-hander Trey Rugg in the starting rotation.
Typically, Sims isn't overly-concerned about wins and losses over the summer.
"We're probably around .500 with the varsity team," Sims said. "We're batting 12 a game, so at bats are limited, and nobody throws over three innings a game. The good thing about summer ball is it allows us to go into January with an idea of where we need to start."
Sims doesn't expect complacency to be an obstacle following the state championship season.
"We're getting out here right now and getting back to work," Sims said. "Everybody knows how it feels to win one now, but we're not going to be able to sneak up on anybody again."
Moving up in classification, the Panthers won't be around to defend their 2A state title. Sims isn't sure what to expect from Class 3A. Basketball is king in the Panthers' new district. Other than Union Parish, District 3-2A teams have struggled to field competitive baseball teams.
Sterlington played only three games against 3A foes last year, winning two. The Panthers lost to eventual state champion South Beauregard 4-3 and defeated West Feliciana 7-6 in the Trey Altick Tournament at Sterlington, and beat North Webster 6-1 in the Lakeside Tournament.
"West Feliciana is always going to be good," Sims said. "South Beauregard beat Iowa for the championship. Brusly's always good. We played South Beauregard and West Feliciana last year. Other than that, I don't really know a lot about 3A. I'm sure we'll have a pretty good idea of who the good teams are supposed to be by January."
One of the bright spots for the Panthers this summer has been the JV team. Logan Rushing and Brody Green combined to shutout Ruston on Monday night. Reese Brooks' two-run single in the bottom of the first sent the Panthers on their way to a 2-0 victory.
"The JV bunch has really been playing well," Sims said. "They're a fun group. We've watched a lot of these kids grow up, and now they're out here playing for us. They're going to be a good group. They're going to push the older group and make them show up and have to play every day. They're pushing them for playing time."
Sterlington will close out summer league play in the Ouachita Tournament next week. The schedule has yet to be finalized.