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The Panola Ponies kick off the 2013 season at home on Friday at 6 p.m. against Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. The Ponies hope to jump back into the top ranks of the conference after being riddled by injuries throughout the 2012 season. Coach Todd Shelton has his work cut out for him with the loss of 10 sophomores that signed with 4-year schools, including two that are projected as starters in the SEC, which include: Brett Pirtle, from Tyler Lee, projected starter at second base for Mississippi State University and Brett McAfee, from Pine Tree High, projected as the opening day starter at shortstop for the University of Arkansas.
Coach Shelton is very optimistic about the 2013 season with the combination of his returning players, transfers, and the high school signees. All Conference third-baseman, Hunter Hagler of Vidor, TX leads the returners as he hit .316 last year during conference. Hagler was an early commitment in the fall to play next year at Oklahoma State University. Another top returner is Gavin Williamson from Carthage High School. Gavin has been named the opening day starter by Coach Shelton. “Gavin saw limited action as a freshman on the mound, but went out this summer to play and has worked really hard to move up the ladder. We really expect a lot out of him this year,” noted Coach Shelton. Another ex-Carthage Bulldog, sophomore Brian Landreneaux, will be expected to handle a lot of the pitching duties this year as well.
Transfer sophomore Bubba Maxwell, from Lamar University and Vidor High School, has already signed early with the University of Houston will also be one of the top pitchers. Maxwell will start game 2 on Saturday of the three game match with NEO. “Bubba was heavily recruited this fall and had several scholarship opportunities. He caught a lot of scouts’ eyes with a fastball consistently in the 90’s,” said Coach Shelton. Another transfer that is expected to help lead the Ponies is starting shortstop Trevin Sonnier. Trevin transferred from TCU, and he signed early with Dallas Baptist University.
Several East Texas area high school stars will get their chances to shine with Panola this year. Carthage’s Jacob Blissett and Clint Cage both will see a lot of action. Blissett will likely split starting time as catcher, and will also see a lot of time on the infield with his versatility. Cage brings a big bat to the lineup and will be seeing a lot of time in the outfield, plus on the mound as one of the top pitchers. Spring Hill’s talented outfielder, Greg Martens, has nailed down a starting job in the outfield with his talents of speed, bat, and arm. The Ponies also have two pitching prospects from Hallsville in Jesse Hanson and Gavin Murrell. Hanson is penciled in as this year’s closer. Other East Texas freshmen that will add depth to the Ponies will be LHP Dameon Smith from Marshall, and LHP Luke Thornton from Gary.
Other starters for the Ponies on opening day include: Derrian James, centerfield, from Westbrook High School in Beaumont; Matt Spruill, second base, from Burke, VA; Randy Ventura, right field, from Rio Grande, PR; and Stephen Schlett, at first base, from Nederland, TX.
The Ponies will begin the 3 game set with NEO on Friday night at 6 p.m. with a 9 inning game, followed by a double header on Saturday beginning at 1 p.m. The next home action will be the following week against Crowder College from Missouri on Saturday, Feb. 9 and Sunday, Feb. 10.