The DeWitt baseball team won 24 games last season, and its returning talent has led it to an impressive start this spring.
The Panthers took two games from Grand Ledge last week, impressively winning the second one 17-2.
“It’s always a good measuring stick to see where you’re at and what kind of team you’ve got,” DeWitt coach Alan Shankel said of his program’s recent nonconference doubleheaders against the Comets in the opening part of every season. “We were obviously pleased with the result. They’ve been the class of the Lansing area, and Pat (O’Keefe) has done great things with that program. So any time you can have competitive games with Grand Ledge, it’s a good omen for the rest of the season.”
“Grand Ledge is always a big game for us,” senior John-Michael Moody said.
“It’s become a rivalry in the past years, and pulling out two against them really got our confidence up. A lot of people contributed.”
Sam Smith shut down the Comets in the second game after an 8-6 win in the opener, and the DeWitt lineup showed just how potent it can be. Five different Panthers had two hits or more in the 17-2 win.
“We kind of expect to hit like that. I think it was less surprise and more confirmation from practice, being inside in the cage and going down south, that these guys can hit like we thought they would,” Shankel said.
Heading into Wednesday night’s doubleheader with Eaton Rapids, DeWitt’s lone loss was to Carleton Airport last weekend.
The Panthers knocked off Blissfield and coach Larry Tuttle before that game, giving DeWitt consecutive wins against coaches with more than 1,000 career victories.
Seven returning starters and a team with many seniors from a squad that made the Diamond Classic last year and went through the CAAC Red with a 9-0 record gives DeWitt hope for big things this year.
Moody is one of those returners. The catcher hit .427 and earned second team all-state recognition last season.
The Panthers had the best record heading into their district but were upended by a Fowlerville team that had finished in last place in the CAAC Red.
Another CAAC Red team, Haslett, ultimately went on to win that district and reached the Division 3 state quarterfinals before losing to Grand Rapids Christian.
Reflecting back on that early postseason exit, Shankel chalked up that surprising defeat to a particular pitching matchup — the Fowlerville starter facing DeWitt had kept the Gladiators in a game during an earlier doubleheader — as well as the one-and-done nature of the state tournament.
But it still has motivated the returning group, especially with DeWitt hosting a Division 2 regional in which the Panthers could play.
“Our motto — it’s always been about goals. It’s always been a goal to win a district, to win a Diamond Classic, but this year it’s a mission and everyone’s bought in,” Moody said.
“We’d love to host a regional and win that regional and move on to quarters, semis and states. It has given us a lot of motivation. Guys have put in a lot of work — and I wouldn’t say it was just because of that Fowlerville game, but all the guys have one goal in mind and now that goal has become a mission.
“We’ve all played together up through first grade, so the camaraderie is at an all-time high. It’s the most camaraderie that I’ve had on a varsity team throughout high school. It’s nice to have that in your senior year, because it’s your last shot.”