NEW FRANKLIN The Manchester baseball team wrapped up another successful campaign on the diamond as it earned second behind CVCA, finishing 8-4 in conference action, and 14-10 overall.
It was the fourth consecutive season's the Panthers placed either first or second in their loop. They won the league in 2016 and 2017 and finished second the past two year's.
Manchester had an opportunity to tie the Royals for a piece of the hardware, but just fell short dropping a 8-7 decision to rival Tuslaw on May 10. The contest was a completion of a game that began on March 28 and was suspended with the score tied 7-7.
"We had a chance to tie for first in the PAC, but lost a game we needed against Tuslaw," said second-year head coach Shawn Johnston (24-18 record). "We were in all, but one of the games we lost this year and lost a few close ones."
The Panthers also lost a heartbreaker in the sectional championship falling to second-seeded Louisville 3-2 in eight innings closing the book on the 2019 ledger.
"We beat Springfield (3-1) in our first tournament game and then played Lousiville, (a team) that arguably could have been the number one seed," stated Johnston. "We lost on a walk-off in extra innings. I know most people didn't give us a chance in that game. We had the lead late and had a couple plays go against us, but played pretty well."
Sharing his thoughts and feedback on the season, Johnston continued, "It was tough going to Division II this year, but our kids showed they can compete with just about anyone on any given day. One of the things I asked of these kids all year was to be tough, and show that they have the same grit and determination I have seen out of Manchester kids for years, especially when everyone underestimates them. I was very proud of how this group finished and they showed they are typical gritty Manchester kids that play hard."
Johnston, a Green High school graduate, noted key performances by several players being instrumental in the team's success this year.
"We had three players get All-PAC. First team was Michael Paljich, Tyler Young and Chris Macko. Brandon Caster received honorable mention and Nick Mayer could have easily been on that list as well as he was the best shortstop I saw this season," Johnston said.
Paljich, who was also named the PAC-7 Player of the Year, led the Panthers batting .500 and was 4-1 pitching in the league (7-2 overall) He had an earned run average of 1.30. He will continue his collegiate career at Notre Dame College in South Euclid.
"I saw maturity and growth out of this young man (Paljich) the past two years," said Johnston about his standout. "I wanted to see the little things in his game improve. Myself and the other coaches pushed him constantly. We wanted to get the best out of him and I think he understands why now. I'm very proud of him and hope to see him continue to put those practices in place as he plays the next level considering he still has untapped potential."
Manchester will lose five seniors to graduation who will be difficult to replace in Paljich, Young, Caster, Mayer and Cole Krager. They combined to post a 57-35 record and win two league titles, and one district runner-up
"Their (seniors) leadership improved as the year went forward, and I'm very proud of them," praised Johnston. "They will be successful in whatever they decide to do. The last thing I said to them before walking off the baseball field for the last time was they represented this school and community well and to continue to do so by doing the right things and making good choices."
Looking forward to future, Johnston believes things are in place to make another strong run.
"We have a great group of juniors coming back with varsity experience," he said. "Chris Macko (.397 batting average), Quinn Summers (.313), Ryan Wike (.300, 21 stolen bases), Zevin Dietry (.282) and Christian Shover is fantastic at first base. We also have two sophomores Zane Cowles (.302), Cage Schuler (.273) and freshman Jadon Johnston (.300). I am expecting our hitting to be okay. The question is what pitchers will step up next year. There are some JV kids that are going to need to step in and fill spots. It will be exciting to see the competition for positions going into next season."