By Erik Walsh
Monitor Sports Editor
MABANK–The Mabank Panthers baseball team is looking for some regularity. More than half of the games have been cancelled or rescheduled due to soaking baseball diamonds. Constant rains have turned fields all over East Texas sopping wet, forcing teams to move practice indoors and get more work in at the batting cages.
“This spring has been a huge mess,” Mabank Head Baseball Coach Lane Stahl said. “The field has been bombarded with water.”
The flood of fluids for the last month has done wonders for Cedar Creek Lake, but Stahl says its time to seal the floodgates and get to America’s pastime.
“We have canceled six or seven games already,” he said. “We haven’t had a practice on the field in three weeks or gotten any game-type reps on the field. We are rusty sometimes and it can show. It’s good that the lake is full, but we need to turn the water switch off until June before it starts raining again. Our sub-varsity teams have played only one game. We are trying to reschedule, but with fields underwater it’s tough.”
Stahl says the lack of field time has slowed the Panthers’ progress.
“It can take a few innings to knock the rust off,” he said. The kids have been resilient through it all. We got pumps and buckets to get the water off the field. It’s been tough not having the continuity of a normal practice regiment of hitting, fielding and pitching.”
According to Stahl, the only home game the Panthers played so far this season was on March 16. That game was the only time the Panthers were able to take the field in nearly a month. Stahl even questions the playability of the field that day.
“We really wanted to get out there and play baseball,” he said. “But the players sank with every step they took in the infield grass. Now even the outfield grass is high because we can’t get on it to mow.”
Stahl takes some comfort knowing other teams are working through the same struggles.
“Everyone is going through the same difficulties,” Stahl said. “We hope to finally get some games in this week when we play Crandall (March 25). We are going to try to get out on our home field. If we can’t play here, we will go to Crandall and flip-flop home sites.”
Leaders on this year’s Panthers baseball team include seniors Cody Thompson (pitcher), Ryan Henderson (pitcher), Colt Conway (center field) and Nate Henderson (right field, pitcher). Thompson was an undefeated (5-0) All-District pitcher last year. Mabank is still waiting for another All-District player to return to the line up. Junior catcher Ty Winkelvoss is recovering from an injury he sustained playing football.
“We’re not rushing Ty’s return behind the plate,” Stahl said. “He’s got another year of football and baseball remaining and we’re not going to do anything to put him in jeopardy, especially with wet fields.”
Despite Mabank’s solid upperclassman core, they will also field many young players this season.
Pearson Johanson returns to third base in his sophomore season. He was an All-Distict player as a freshman. Rounding out the starters are short stop Cory Florez, second basemen Trey Neighbors and Patyon Lee and first basemen Dylan Raburn and Tristan Mellorn. Chase Bailey and Dalton Penix will split time behind the plate while Winkelvoss recovers.
The Panthers have targets on their backs, considering they are the defending District Champions. Stahl, however, downplays the importance of last year’s accomplishments and redirects the team attention to this year.
“I try not to compare last year’s team to this one. This is my first year at Mabank and we need to focus on the now and move forward. They have had recent success, but each year is new and we need to earn our place all over again.”
Mabank was picked to finish third in the district 4A-13 this year behind Crandall and Athens.
Stahl coached college baseball for more than 20 years before coming to lead the Panthers. The Dallas/Fort Worth native was coaching a Division III college in Illinois when he realized he needed a change to make more time for family.
“I have always been on the road coaching or recruiting,” he said. “I have children in junior high and intermediate school and haven’t been able to watch them in any activities or sports. Being a high school coach opens up some of my time to be a dad.”
He also came to Mabank for the opportunity to shape young lives.
“High school coaches are in a unique position to be mentors,” he said. “It’s rewarding to see the students make improvements on the field, and in the class room and life. ”