The Panthers went 22-10 last year and got all the way to the state 6A semifinals before losing to Sheridan.
Coach Mark Balisterri said that was a frustrating ending to the season for the team, especially after El Dorado defeated Sheridan for the state championship.
“We beat both of them during the regular season,” he said. “We are working on getting back to the playoffs and taking it that final step.”
The coach thinks the Panthers have a “good chance” to get there.
Best Hitter for Average: Jack James, a senior, plays second base and will be the team’s leadoff hitter. “He can hit .300 or better,” Balisterri said. “He is not a big power-hitter guy, but he can spray the ball around to all fields.”
Best Power Hitter: “Carson Holloway can hit one every time he comes to bat,” the coach said about the Panther center fielder and pitcher. Balisterri also mentioned Colton Lee, a senior pitcher, as a big guy with power. “When they hit and you hear the ball come off the bat,” the coach said, “it sounds different, and you know they really squared up on the ball.”
Best Speed: Power hitter Holloway may also have the best speed on the base paths, Balisterri said. “In addition, Blake Nations is another fast player once he’s off and running. Chase Shamlin, a sophomore, also has power and can run, Balisterri said. Meanwhile, the coach is looking over some very fast freshmen who are pushing for an opportunity to make the team. That could be good news down the road for the Panthers.
Best Fielder: The coach said the strength of the infield is that it has consistent fielders at the corners, with Grayson Chilton at third base and Trey Bishop at first. Balisterri said Bishop has the “best glove on the team.”
Best Arm: Colton Lee is the leading pitcher for the Panthers, the coach said. Lee has been a star pitcher for two years and was named to the all-state team last year. “He’s a junior, and Arkansas State University has already [shown interest],” Balisterri said. Also returning is Justin Vincent, who was all-conference last year. Carson Holloway will pitch and could close some for the team this year. In addition, Tyler Patterson and Brian Krikorian could play a role in the pitching staff this year, the coach said. “Last year, there were no right-handers on the staff,” Balisterri said. “This year, it will still be 95 percent lefties, so it’s no secret.”
It is a team led by its seniors this year, with 10 seniors on the Benton Panthers roster. “We have depth on the mound and an experienced and quality defense,” coach Balisterri said. “We can make the plays, and the pitchers can give us a chance to win. If we can score four or five runs a game; we have a good chance of going far.”