North Carroll re-joined the South Penn League last summer, after a one-year hiatus when the team couldn’t field enough players and had to fold. The Panthers struggled in 2018, but some of them had their eyes on the future.
This year has already produced success, and an infusion of youth is helping North Carroll change its approach in 2019.
The Panthers defeated Gettysburg 8-5 last Thursday and improved to 7-9. Last summer, NC limped in with a 3-23 record and the mood wasn’t always a good one.
Doubling last year’s win total by late June is a positive sign, the Panthers said.
“We didn’t start off the way we wanted, and in the middle of the season you could see [some guys] weren’t in the game a lot. The competitiveness wasn’t there,” said Andrew Wilmer, a 2016 North Carroll High School gradate and infielder/pitcher for the Panthers.
“But I think this year, as soon as they put those cleats on and step on the field, we want to go win. I think the mindset this year is just a little bit different.”
Wilmer is batting .392 in 15 games this season, second best on the team behind shortstop Wade Groupp, a 2014 North Carroll grad who is hitting .441 over 11 games. Wilmer’s two home runs are tops on the Panthers, and his 15 RBIs are second to longtime player/co-manager Elijah Wingate’s 16.
Wingate has five doubles, and Wilmer has four to go with 17 runs scored. Groupp has two triples as well.
Pitching, as in nearly every single baseball circumstance, is critical to the team’s success. Brandon March, the Panthers’ other co-manager, said he’s got a solid rotation with Trevor Boring, Wilmer, Steve Stonesifer, and Zak Nedzel, a South Penn veteran who returned to the Panthers after spending some time with Brushtown.
The South Penn League is a wooden bat, semi-pro organization that abides by Major League Baseball American League rules. It started in 1966, and has featured teams from southern Pennsylvania and Carroll County throughout its history.
North Carroll joined the South Penn League in 2005 as an expansion team, and gave Carroll County its first entry in five years. Wingate won the league’s Most Outstanding Pitcher Award in 2007. Two years after that, the Panthers played in the SPL championship series.
They won the league title in 2013, sweeping Biglerville in the finals, and made another trip to the finals the following summer.
March said North Carroll’s first- and second-year players have been dealing well with the transition from high school to college-level ball.
“For them, just being in the league last year and getting a taste of what it takes to be in this league, was a big thing,” March said. “But I knew … I knew I had something good there.”
March praised Groupp and catcher Todd Wilmer for their defensive prowess, among others, and said getting through last summer intact was the most important thing.
“Losing sucks for everybody,” March said. “Everyone was excited coming into this year because they knew we had a better core. Everyone knew what to expect. Having these young guys come from high school .. and having talent already to build around, makes me excited to know this team’s going to last past this year.”
North Carroll is set to host New Oxford (12-2-2) in a doubleheader Sunday, and welcomes Littlestown (12-6) to Hampstead on Tuesday in a rescheduled game. The Panthers visit Biglerville (6-12) on Thursday, then come home June 30 for another twinbill against Cashtown (12-1).
The first-place Pirates have won the past two SPL championships.
It’s a big stretch for North Carroll, but the players seem determined to keep improving the use the regular season as a barometer for the playoffs late next month.
“Right now it’s definitely better than last year. You can tell,” Wilmer said “The biggest thing going right now is we’ve competed in every single game. I don’t think any team scares us.