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April 4, 2013

Panthers hope to pounce on new beginning

ANDERSON, Ind. — Nick Oldham played in the first two Nick Muller Memorial Baseball Tournaments for Elwood in 2001 and 2002.

On Tuesday, he’ll open his coaching career by leading his alma mater in the 13th edition of the event against Central Indiana Conference rival Frankton in a first-round game.

“I’m excited,” Oldham said. “I think we’ll do well this year. We’ve got a lot of returners this year, and I think we’ll be competitive.”

The Panthers also have quite a bit of old-school experience for a program under its third head coach in four years. Oldham has assistance from holdover coaches Chuck Everson and Mike Davis.

Davis has seen some eight Elwood baseball coaches come and go during his time with the program, and he helped coach Oldham during his playing days. That kind of institutional knowledge, and support, is critical for a first-time varsity head coach.

“I use him as a crutch,” Oldham said. “I’m going to lean on Mike a lot.”

Though the Panthers finished just 11-19 last season, they had a strong fourth-place showing in the Muller tourney. And the heart of the lineup is back.

As important as Davis is to Oldham’s development, the return of star Oscar Dimas is even more integral.

The senior led the Panthers with a .427 batting average last year and added two home runs and 21 RBIs. He also threw 60 2/3 innings on the mound, picking up three wins and pitching to a 2.54 ERA.

Dimas leads an experienced core that also includes Jared Bourff (.373, 1 homer, 13 RBIs), London Leavell (.300, 0, 20), Drew Wells (.275, 3, 19) and C.J. Sanqunetti (3.60 ERA, 11 2/3 innings pitched).

“It’s been a positive transition,” Oldham said. “We started out a little rough, but I’m not really changing anything.”

Elwood remains a proud program with high expectations.

The Panthers reached the Class 2A state championship game in 2008 and won their only Muller championship a year later in 2009.

This team isn’t necessarily chasing those heights, but the slow start to the spring season promises a wild and unpredictable campaign.

Unseasonable snowfall has forced many teams to practice indoors, and coaches have needed to get creative. Oldham moved his team’s portable pitching mound inside to the batting cage in an attempt to give his hitters a look at something as close to live pitching as possible.

But there are some things that simply can’t be replicated indoors. And that leads to an air of uncertainty.

“As far as my coaching standpoint, I’d like to see where our kids are at,” Oldham said of looking forward to Tuesday’s season opener. “We’re kinda going into the tournament blind.”

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