Panthers look to take next step in Class AAAA playoffs

The Carolina Forest High baseball team is hoping to pick up where it left off last season when the Panthers open the 2012 season Tuesday at home against Sumter.

Carolina Forest’s surprising run to the Class AAAA Lower State Finals ended with a loss to those same Gamecocks, who went on to win the state championship.

It was an unlikely finish for the Panthers, who finished third in their region to barely make the playoffs then caught fire in the postseason.

After posting a runner-up finish to Class AAA state champion St. James in the Mingo Bay Classic, the Panthers upset Stratford for the district title before falling to Sumter.

The 2012 Panthers return 12 lettermen from last year’s squad but must replace four key starters. Carolina Forest will be led by eight seniors, with pitcher and Liberty signee Robert Gary the ace on the mound.

The Panthers go five to seven deep in the pitching department, including Gray and fellow seniors Chris Orlando and Erich Knab and junior Tyler Wyeth making up the starting rotation.

Middle relievers and possible closers are seniors Gary Mattocks, Josh Fryar, Ryan Elko and Tyler Kochan, along with junior Cullen Marcis.

The infield also should be solid, returning four of five starters from last season. Returning at the catcher position is senior Dillon Karnes and sophomore Robert Jolly.

First base will be occupied by returner Elko and Fryar, while Mattocks will be returning up the middle infield at second base and shortstop.

Anchoring third base will be sophomore Ryan Flynn. Also seeing playing time in the infield are Tyler Wyeth, Erich Knab, Gray, Jolly and Karnes at first and third.

Newcomers from the JV team that could see action on the varsity infield are junior Justin Nunes, sophomore Ryan Yurachek and freshman Kyle Belack at the corners.

The outfield returns all three starters – Orlando, Gray and Knab will all see outfield action. Also battling for outfield playing time will be returners Kochan, and Cullen Marcis.

Elko and Flynn could also see time in the outfield this season. Possible promotions from the JV team in the outfield are junior Hayden Rothenburg and sophomores Cameron Schildt, Yurachek and Belack.

The Panthers will make a return visit to the IP Classic in Georgetown and also travel to Blythewood to participate in the SC Diamond Invitational this season.

These two tournaments, plus a competitive non-region schedule will prepare the Panthers for the challenge of the playing in one of the toughest regions in the state and making a deep play-off run in 4A baseball.

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