Baseball: Experienced Putnam County ready to make another run

Talent, depth could fuel veteran Panthers to another long postseason

Putnam County's Andrew Pyszka (2) makes the throw to fist for the out against Marquette during the Baseball 1A Harvest Christian Sectional at Judson College in Elgin on Saturday, May 28, 2022.

Putnam County baseball coach Chris Newsome knows what he’s got on his hands this spring, a club that has the experience, talent and depth to make another deep run into the postseason, and maybe extend that run a step or two further.

That is, if he can keep that group together on the field and healthy.

Newsome’s Panthers lost Drake Smith, a key piece to last season’s run to the Class 1A Harvest Christian Sectional final last spring.

However, he returns virtually everyone else from the club that went 27-9 overall and 11-3 in the Tri-County Conference, including 1A all-stater and reigning TCC and NewsTribune Player of the Year Andrew Pyszka, former TCC Pitcher of the Year Jackson McDonald and NewsTribune second-team picks Nick Currie and Troy Petty, that is expected to challenge for a repeat year … if it stays healthy.

“We’re in a fortunate spot in regard to the experience we have back. In fact, this might be the most experienced group I’ve had,” said Newsome, now in his ninth season. “Usually those years turn out better than others. Experience means something.

“But we have to stay healthy. We have depth when we’re all together and, depending on who pitches, there will be a lot of moving parts, something not uncommon in 1A. There’s not a player on our roster whose position is listed as just ‘P.’ They’re all expected to do something else. … We have versatile athletes, but if one of those dominoes falls to injury, it affects everybody. Health is a necessity.”

Putnam County pitching is led by McDonald. The tall right-hander won the Tri-County’s top pitcher honor as a sophomore but was denied by Seneca’s Matt Cruise a year ago despite going 6-0 with a 1.88 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 48⅓ innings.

Joining him in the rotation will be Petty, a commit to NJCAA D-2 Elgin; Pyszka, an NJCAA D-1 commit and the usual shortstop; Currie, the power-hitting everyday catcher; Blake Billups and Ryan Hundley. All are seniors with plenty of varsity experience.

“Pitching is probably one of our strongest attributes, not only in talent but in depth,” Newsome said. “We have guys who can step up and fill the void of the guys we’ve lost.”

The rest of the lineup depends on who’s on the hill. Pyszka, who hit .512 with 16 doubles, 10 triples, five homers, 30 RBIs and 49 stolen bases a year ago, is at short, while McDonald, the NewsTribune area leader in RBIs with 34 to go with a .333 average and 29 runs scored, mans first.

Hundley handles second and Petty third, with their backups first to third being Josh Jessen, Drew Carlson, Austin Mattingly and either Billups or freshman Jonathan Stunkel.

In the outfield, Mattingly anchors in center, flanked on the corners by Billups, Stunkel, seniors Dylan Busch and Lucas Weisbrock, junior Cole Vipond, and sophomore Ayden Lawless.

Together they will face the toughest schedule both fall and spring that Newsome, also the PC athletic director, has ever put together.

“We want to see the hard throwers, the hard sliders early so we’re not surprised when we see it in the postseason,” Newsome said. “We won’t get the break in games and I hope we have the resolve to not get discouraged if our record isn’t what we usually get. We’re preparing for bigger things.

“This is a very baseball talented group. I’m not going to lie, expectations are high for these guys and we don’t try to hide that. The expectation isn’t just to win, it’s to bust your butt to get to that point, to hold each other accountable. We have to play the best we can from day one to put ourselves in the best position possible.”