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Panthers swinging for success in 2004

With the dawn of spring in the air, the beginning of the new season is near for the Mehlville Senior High School baseball team.

Panthers head coach Jim Kern is opportunistic when speaking of the prospects of the 2004 season.

"I think that overall, we have to be better than we were last year," Kern told the Call. "We have to win those one- and two-run losses that we had last year."

Last season, the Panthers struggled to a record of 3-19 overall and lost 10 games by two runs or less.

"We'll hit the ball OK, but defensively we need to keep the other team from getting on base," Kern explained. "We'll have at least six people on the field that have some experience out there."

Serving as the foundation of the defense this season will be junior Steve Braun. Last season the shortstop not only was strong defensively, but he was hot at the plate with a .355 batting average. Braun also recorded eight runs batted in on 22 hits.

"Steve's pretty much the foundation in our infield," Kern said. "We expect him to be as good defensively as he was last season and his freshman year. He's going to be one of those kids next year that a lot of schools will want."

Behind the plate this season will be senior Eric Tripp, who carried a .328 batting average with 21 hits, one double, four triples, two home runs and 11 RBI.

"Eric's going to see the majority of the work behind the plate," Kern said. "We're going to rely heavily on him because our pitching staff is so young this year."

In left field this year will be sophomore Steve Thurmond, who also saw time last season as a starting pitcher. Thurmond was solid at the plate with a .327 batting average with four doubles, two triples, two home runs and 11 RBI on 16 hits.

Thurmond was not as successful on the mound as he was at the plate with a record of 0-3 and a 5.46 earned run average on 16.7 innings pitched.

"Steve's going to have to control the outfield for us," Kern said. "He's the only person in the outfield with some varsity experience. I think that he's going to do a good job with that this season."

Also on the mound this season with be senior Brett Fallert and junior Jake Morgan.

"We're going to have to rely on Jake to throw in a lot of big games," Kern said. "I can also see Brett throwing in a lot of innings this year where he'll come out of the bullpen and help us get out of jams."

The Panthers begin the 2004 season at 4 p.m. March 22 against Webster Groves in the first round of the Lindbergh/Mehlville Tournament.

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