Panthers may have gone down, but they went down fighting all the way

The Plymouth Panthers didn’t reach their ultimate goal of winning a state summer baseball championship but should be proud of their efforts in the state semifinals and what they accomplished overall this past season.

I was impressed with the fight and spirit shown by the Panthers against Franklin in the state tournament July 24, even when they faced an uphill battle. It would’ve been easy for the Panthers to throw in the towel when they were down 8-1 and 11-2 but they refused to give up. The Sabers won, 11-4, but had to earn it against a fired-up PHS squad.

“It was nice to see no one give up,” said Panther senior catcher Tyler Willeford after the game.

“Obviously, we fell short of our last goal [winning state championship] but we achieved everything else we wanted to do and were conference champions. We went down fighting and there wasn’t much to complain about.”

You certainly couldn’t fault the Panthers for lack of effort against Franklin. As PHS head coach Butch Cain said, “They scratched and clawed until the very end.”

A great example of the Panthers’ grit and determination in the Franklin game occurred in the bottom of the seventh. With his team trailing 11-2, Willeford led off with a routine grounder to the second baseman and he showed great hustle as he nearly beat it out for a hit.

This PHS team’s confidence and energy never wavered at state. The Panthers hustled throughout the game and played as a cohesive unit, just as they have all season.

“It was a good fight [against Franklin]. Nobody gave up. Everybody was still up at the fence [in the dugout] yelling,” said Willeford.

“Even the pinch runners like Alex Krueger and Taylor Struve were hustling around [in the seventh inning] and forcing them to make some plays they normally don’t make, and scoring runs.”

Krueger scored on Zac Cain’s double and Struve came home on a throwing error by the third baseman.

“The staff is very proud of all of our guys! They fought hard and didn’t let up until the final pitch of another successful season,” said coach Cain.

Coach Cain and the Plymouth baseball program are well respected by many high school baseball coaches, myself and many others. I’ve heard many complimentary comments from coaches about coach Cain and the PHS baseball program.

Franklin head coach Jim Hughes, who has coached high school baseball for 43 years and has won 855 games, has much respect for coach Cain and this year’s Panther team

“They have a nice team. They played a good game. He’s a good coach and he brings in a good program. Everybody knows him,” said Hughes after the Sabers’ win over PHS.

“I was worried until the end. Plymouth kept battling.”

I’ve always been impressed with the job that coach Cain and his staff have done over the years. His teams are always well-prepared, they play hard and with a lot of enthusiasm, and execute the basics of the game well.

Cain emphasizes doing the little things properly such as advancing runners, throwing to the right base and taking the extra base. He stresses focusing on one pitch at a time at the plate and on defense, putting the ball in play, keeping pressure on the opposing team’s defense, and throwing strikes to allow his defense to make plays.

Over the years, Cain’s teams traditionally have performed well in the aforementioned areas which have been crucial to the success of Panther baseball. In his 12 years as the PHS head coach, Cain has guided four teams to the state tourney and has a 215-132 record during that span.

This past season, the Panthers won their third Eastern Wisconsin Conference title and have posted an impressive 49-4- 1 league record during that stretch. Over the past three years the Panthers’ overall record is an outstanding 75-17-1.

Coach Cain will be the first person to tell you that the success of the PHS baseball program over the years has been a team effort among the players and coaching staff, and this year was a shining example.

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