AYER -- The Panthers didn't have much roar last season as they won only four games. That was due in large part to the team's youth and the solid competition in the Mid-Wach D.
Ayer-Shirley head coach Scott Callahan admits that the Panthers have some depth issues in the outfield and a plethora of youth who just so happen to possess strong baseball IQs.
"The exciting thing about the team is that we have young talent," said Callanan. "The strength of our team is in the future. We have talented sophomores, and a small, but good senior class. We are coming off a four-win season where we lose eight seniors."
Last season was a stepping stone season for the Panthers as it gave some of the freshman players a chance to acclimate to the varsity level. On the mound, Callanan projects his opening day starter to be sophomore SS/RHP Danny Baldino.
Baldino was a product of poor run support last season, but Callanan believes that his one year at the varsity level was a solid learning experience for the young hurler.
"Danny is fantastic," said Callanan. "He is our number one pitcher, and he will get a lot of time at shortstop. He is an excellent catcher, but he won't see a lot of time there because he makes us better when he is in the middle infield. He is a leader on this team in his talents and the type of kid he is."
When Callanan held a meeting in his classroom one day after school for all the returning players, seniors Luke Snyder and Brian Waite were selected as captains along with junior Jake Hannon. Callanan was by no means surprised by the captains the team selected.
"Luke Snyder is a right fielder who has been playing baseball his entire life," said Callanan. "He has been playing baseball his whole life and would like to play college ball; he doesn't want this to be the end of his playing career. He is motivated by not playing on a winning sports team in his high school career."
Hannon is the planner of the captains and will likely be the team's every day catcher. Waite has an infectious aura around him on the practice diamond, and he sets a good example for the younger players.
Waite will make some appearances on the hill as well. He posted a 2-1 record last season through 20.1 innings of work.
Other senior lettermen include CF/LHP Ryan Coulter and Kyle Larter, who is expected to be the Panthers' second starter -- and to flip-flop with Baldino in the top rung of the rotation throughout the season. Larter will see a fair share of playing time at shortstop when Baldino is on the rubber.
For the junior class, Seth Newell will be the super utility player who will be the team's 10th man. Newell is expected to get time at many different positions, and Callanan feels that he has embraced his role with the team.
"He is capable at all of the positions," said Callanan. "I have asked a lot of him in the off-season at trying positions he didn't play much last year. He will do anything to play, and I appreciate that as a coach."
Joey Holmes is a lefty utility player who will see some time on the mound. Sophomore Alex Calabrese will likely get time at second base, and Chris Patano will see the bulk of his time at first, while Alex Walker is anticipated to cover a lot of ground in left field.
Ayer-Shirley intends to play a fast game and manufacture runs with their speed on the basepaths. Callanan does have one small fear for his team going into the season. Do they know how to close out ballgames?
"We will be aggressive," said Callanan. "I am confident in our guys and coaching staff to get them ready.
What concerns me is that we don't necessarily know how to win. We need to take a step this year and win some of those 3-2 games we lost last year."
The Panthers open up the season Monday at Mid-Wach C foe Clinton at 3:30 p.m.