Panthers baseball team loses opening day game to Summit, 13-5 |

Panthers baseball team loses opening day game to Summit, 13-5

The Middle Park Panthers Baseball Team ran into a wall against the Summit High School Tigers in their first game of the season on Tuesday, losing 13-5. While there were highlights on the offensive side of the ball, none of the Middle Park pitchers were able to escape the Tiger onslaught.

The Panthers collected nine hits, led by Junior Outfielder Turner Bjerken who went 3-for-4 with two runs and two RBI. Sophomore James Gallegos went 2-for-3 with an RBI, and Sophomore Vinny Troccoli went 1-for-4 with a run and an RBI.

On the mound sophomore righty Jacob Smith had the most luck, spinning two innings of two-run ball, with one earned, two hits, a walk and two strikeouts. Gallegos threw two innings with four runs (one earned), three hits, a walk and three strikeouts. Junior Ben Kuhnel went two innings giving up three earned, with three hits, two walks and two strikeouts. Senior Kyger Mintken got roughed up for four earned on two hits, three walks and a strikeout in an inning.

The loss is a troubling start for a team that went 6-12 last season and finished just seventh in the Frontier League standings. The silver lining is that the Panthers didn’t lose any irreplaceable players from last year. Most notable among the graduates were T.J. Lange and Colton Romero.

Lange was second on the team with 19 innings pitched last season. He finished the year with a 6.05 ERA in seven appearances, with a 1.82 WHIP and 16:5 K:BB ratio. Romero had a 10.27 ERA in four appearances last season with a 2.6 WHIP and 10:6 K:BB ratio. Romero also swung the bat, slashing .308/.393/.346 for a .739 OPS in 63 plate appearances.

That means that the core talent on the team is still in tact, namely Kuhnel and Bjerken. Last year as a sophomore Kuhnel anchored the staff to the tune of a 5.48 ERA in 23 innings, despite a lofty 2.04 WHIP and weak 16:12 K:BB rate. But Kuhnel also thrived at the plate, slashing .289/.448/.466. Bjerken slashed .381/.458/.452 with 10 runs, 10 RBI and 15 steals.

There were also several players last season that showed signs of breaking out based on limited plate appearances. Among breakout candidates Sophomore Jacob Smith saw the most significant playing time last season, hitting .324 with a .778 OPS in 34 at bats. Sophomore Vinny Troccoli had a .500 OBP last season in 20 plate appearances.

Perhaps most impressive was what Junior Beale Smith and Sophomore Paul Eichler were able to do in very limited action last season. Smith slashed .471/.571/.471 for a 1.042 OPS in 21 plate appearances last year, while Eichler hit for power immediately, slashing .417/462/.666 for an eye-popping 1.129 OPS in 13 plate appearances. These numbers are largely unsustainable, but hint at potentially plus hit tools, and maybe a plus power tool for Eichler if he’s able to develop.

The Panthers are certainly hoping to see some breakout players this year as they try to return to form as the team that won at least 15 games in six straight seasons from 2008 to 2013. The Panthers are just 23-48 since the start of the 2014 season, with their only winning season coming in 2016.

Up next is a double header at home against the Aspen Skiers on Saturday. The Skiers are 1-0 after a 9-4 win over Basalt earlier this week. Aspen and Middle Park split games in a double header last year. The Panthers home stand continues next week with games against The Academy on Tuesday and Lyons on Thursday.

(The box score submitted by Middle Park was used for this story, though Summit submitted a slightly different box score with a 12-5 final score. Middle Park Head Coach Jon Hall did not return request for comment.)

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