Leadoff hitter Panzer shines in Class LL tournament
Updated 4:51 pm, Saturday, June 13, 2015
If the state gave out an award for the Most Valuable Player of the 2015 Class LL baseball tournament, Staples junior centerfielder Nate Panzer would have as good of a case as anyone, given the way he swung the bat and played defense over the last two weeks.
Though the Wreckers lost 8-1 to Amity in the championship game on Saturday at Palmer Field in Middletown, Panzer made his stamp on each game in the tournament and ignited an offense that scored 33 runs in four games before the final.
Before the state tournament, Staples went 18-5 and fell to Wilton in the FCIAC title game.
A University of Maryland commit, Panzer hit home runs in three straight games, and tallied 10 hits total in the tournament. Against the Spartans, Panzer went 2-for-4.
“He was unconscious,” said Staples coach Jack McFarland of his leadoff hitter. “He’s one of the top bats in Connecticut, obviously. When he’s up, you expect something big and it’s really impressive.”
In a small bit of foreshadowing that it might not be Staples’ afternoon, Panzer was robbed of a hit to open the game as Amity shortstop Brian Ronai climbed the ladder to haul in a line drive.
“Ben (Casparius) singled right after that, I’m probably on second and it’s a 1-1 game right off the bat,” Panzer said. “Hats off to (Amity); they made all the plays they had to make, and more than that.”
When Panzer was up with two outs in the bottom of the third inning against the Spartans, he delivered. Trailing 1-0, he crushed the first pitch in the at bat off Amity starter Elias Oliphant so far over the right field fence.
“I thought that was going to be the jumpstart to what the team needed,” Panzer said. “The guys behind me have done a terrific job all year; today we just came up a little bit short, myself included.”
Instead, Amity sealed a third straight Class LL title with a barrage of hits in the fourth and fifth innings. The offensive onslaught still didn’t overshadow Panzer, who had a major contribution in each victory in the run to Palmer Field.
In the first round against Hamden, Panzer led off the game with a hit and would score as part of a three-run inning. He would also add a triple later in the game as the Wreckers won 7-1.
Panzer hit third gear in a 7-0 win over South Windsor in the second round, socking a double as part of a three-hit day. Against Greenwich in the quarterfinals, he reached base four times — once on another triple — and hit his first home run of the tournament in an 8-5 win when all the offense was needed.
“I started off the season poorly, I didn’t hit well,” Panzer said. “I told (the coaches) I was trying to do too much. I just tried to get back to what I know I’m capable of.”
He would add a walk and another towering home run against Norwalk in the semifinals.
Individual accomplishments couldn’t console Panzer after a bitter loss and an end to a season that appeared to be destined to end with a trophy.
“This is the most fun I’ve ever had in my life with these guys, on and off the field,” Panzer said. “It’s disappointing that we came up short in both of the big games, but the bottom line is we won 20-plus games; that’s a huge success for this program.”