Credit: Jamani Reed, 42Fifty

DISCLAIMER: Managing Editor Alex Mielcarz is a member of the Panther baseball program. He had no input in the writing or editing process of this article.

New year, new team. This season, Panther baseball is facing significant changes, ranging from the new coaching staff to new conference opponents. 

Mr. Kevin Wilson, a history teacher at OHS, is transitioning from assistant varsity coach to head coach for the sophomore level. He is looking forward to helping the sophomores prepare for the jump to varsity in the year to come.

“Having been on the varsity staff, I know the expectations that Coach G[iarrante] has, and Coach Bachio has for the varsity players. Now I’m able to instill that in sophomore players,” Coach Wilson said.

Senior infielder Cal Hezja recognizes the positive impact that Wilson will have on the sophomore athletes in the program.

“Coach Wilson’s a good leader in the program, so it’s good for him to teach the younger guys and make sure they know the ways of the program,” Hezja said.

Wilson shared that the sophomore season has different goals compared to varsity. For this year, improvement, not wins, is his primary concern.

“It’s more important to win at the varsity level, get those regional championships, get those sectional championships,” Wilson said.

Senior Darren Mancke (20) delivers a pitch off the mound, hoping for a strike. Credit: Jamani Reed, 42Fifty

Assistant varsity coach Alex Hales will take over Wilson’s spot within the varsity coaching staff, met by approval from head coach Joe Giarrante. Hales’ history as a hitting coach will play a vital part in this season, as the juniors adjust to a new caliber of pitching. He has prior experience with Catawba College, Diamond Sport Stars, and Elite Baseball Training. The team is also excited about Hales’ addition to the coaching staff, and have already had opportunities to experience his coaching style.

“Coach Hales is a great coach, [we’re] excited to have him,” said senior pitcher Darren Mancke. “Just working with him in the offseason and summer, it was great to have him around.”

Oswego baseball is also facing new conference opponents this season, as Yorkville and West Aurora join the Southwest Prairie Conference. Giarrante shared that these are teams that the Panthers have consistently played in recent years, so he doesn’t expect a significant change to the season.

“We have a pretty good idea what they are capable of doing,” Giarrante said.

Wilson looks forward to taking on these teams, bringing a new challenge to the season.

“I think it will be fun, they are both competitive teams,” Wilson said.

The schedule and coaching staff aren’t the only factors changing this season, as this year’s team has to adapt to rising juniors in its ranks and the departure of last year’s senior stars.

“We will have a pretty young varsity team, but they have done some good things at the lower levels,” Giarrante said.

As a result, the remaining seniors recognized that they have to become leaders within the program.

Senior Patrick Hranka takes a cut at the ball against Oswego East at Crosstown. Credit: Jamani Reed, 42Fifty

“I want to set a good example for them, so they have something to model their game after,” Mancke said. 

Hezja shared similar goals of aiding the younger players in the learning process.

“I hope to do what the seniors did for us last year, lead the underclassmen and make sure they know how to do everything,” Hezja said. 

With these changes, everyone involved with the team will have to remain open to change this season to make success possible.

“They’re gonna have to fit in with us and our pieces, and we gotta fit in with their pieces to bring us to a good chance of winning games,” Mancke said.

Seniors especially will have to adapt this season, and they are preparing to do just that. 

“We lost a lot of pieces last year, so just looking for everybody already on the team to step up,” Hezja said.

Panther baseball will undoubtedly be different this season, and players are welcoming these changes as opportunities for growth.

“Everybody’s gotta buy-in. It’s gonna be a lot different than last year, we’re not gonna be able to play the same game,” Mancke said.

To help make this process as smooth as possible, Giarrante wants to emphasize an aspect of the game that’s built beyond the field. 

“We want to bond together and make sure we are all pulling in the right direction,” Giarrante said.

While the program is facing many changes, players and staff are confident in the team’s ability to persevere and achieve success.

“We are going to push our kids and be ready to compete at the highest level,” coach Joe Giarrante said.

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