PANTHER OF THE WEEK: Carlisle setting tone for Panthers defensively

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By Lance Catchings

Senior Pudge Carlisle has been a solid player for the Panther baseball team over the past two seasons. He can be dangerous at the plate and can track an infield hit with the best of them, but his impact on the team goes further than what he can do on the diamond.

Head Baseball Coach Steven Hutcherson believes it is players like Carlisle that can help set a solid foundation for a program.

“Pudge is a good player and brings a lot of good things to the table,” Hutcherson said. “He is a good defender, has good at-bats and can get on base. He helps both the offense and the defense run better with him out there. You also see a guy that means a lot to the team from how he acts as a student and a player. He is one of those guys that makes the team better in all the areas you need to be good that are not just baseball related. He does a lot of things to keep the team energized and a lot of guys can rally around. I have seen that he never takes a day off. Every day at practice he is diving around, trying to make plays, and running hard. He understands to be good in this game, you have to earn it every day in practice and in every game.”

The Panthers are now 32-3-1 on the season as they head into a regional final matchup against La Vernia. Carlisle credited Hutcherson as a huge reason why the Panthers have shown so much improvement from one season to the next.

“After last year in the playoffs, I thought as a team, we didn’t play great as a whole,” Carlisle said. “We did not play the way teams in the past are expected to. Coming from last year, we played sloppy and half-hearted as a team, which is extremely different from this year where we are all invested. We have added skill this season as we have all improved since last year.

“The main part of our improvement, in my opinion, has been the coaching that has come in,” he said. “Coach Hutcherson is only one guy that has come in, but he has made such an impact working with all of us and crafting our game. He has been a huge asset to helping this team be successful. Getting our skill better has given us a better mindset for a deep run in the playoffs.”

Carlisle has been a big part of that deep playoff run this season. In the regional semifinal series against Sinton, he had an RBI in each of the wins and was near perfect in his fielding from second base. When asked about his strong play, he emphasized communication and a defensive focus.

“We have definitely improved communication and talking in between plays,” he said. “Everyone being sure of what they are doing is a big part of baseball. It is a team game. You can’t go out one person against nine and win a game. I feel like I have always been better at playing defense than playing offense. It is why I feel so comfortable and am playing smoothly out at second base. Last week at our banquet, I even won defensive MVP for the team, which was a huge honor. Just the fact that I am playing the same position I did last year and the same position I played the past eight or nine years, I feel comfortable there. I feel like I can get to almost anything hit in my area.”

In the Sinton series, Carlisle said preparation also played a big factor in the two-game sweep.

“Coach had a scouting report ready for us against Sinton, and the big thing was to not let them string things together,” Carlisle said. “If we start making errors and letting guys on base, we knew they would capitalize on it. They only led for one inning throughout the entire series, and it was a 2-1 lead. We took care of it in the bottom half of the inning when we put up five runs. Everyone has confidence in everyone on the team, up and down the order and extending to the dugout. Sometimes, there may be hitters that may not being seeing the ball well on a certain day, but we know there are other hitters down the lineup that can help out.”

Carlisle and his teammates have now turned their sights to an explosive La Vernia team for the regional final matchup.

“We want to go into the La Vernia series like we have been,” he said. “We want to get ahead and let our pitchers pitch with a lead. We want to make plays behind them and do the same things we have been doing for the past two months. We are a strong team up and down the order, so if we play like we know we can, we should be able to take control and win the series.”

The Panthers open their regional final series against La Vernia Thursday night at 7 p.m. at Dripping Springs High School. Game two will be played Saturday at 1 p.m. in the same location, followed immediately by game three, if necessary.

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