Lanett Baseball rebuilding with unique and fun season

Published 10:15 am Wednesday, April 3, 2024

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Baseball in Lanett has long been a forgotten sport at every level. This season, the Panthers are having a unique season, but the program is building up steam. In the meantime, Lanett is also becoming one of the more fun teams to watch in Chambers County. 

The Panthers are not in a region this season and the team is classified more like a junior varsity team. Lanett had been toiling away in a tough region in 2A, and it frankly just was not fun for anyone involved. 

Head coach Ryan Nelson and the rest of the coaching staff are instead using this season as a chance to rebuild the program and develop some of the young talent. 

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“We were in a really hard region,” Nelson said. “The kids were just losing confidence and getting disappointed. The administration just came to me and said, ‘What are your ideas about not being in a region for a couple of years and coming back and readressing where we are as a team.’ That’s what we’re doing this year.” 

Lanett’s high school baseball team is in a tough situation each season because there is no recreational baseball program in the city. Most of the players do not touch a diamond until they are in seventh, eighth or ninth grade. 

The high school coaches are then forced to play catch up with other teams in the county and in 2A where the players have been playing baseball since they were as young as five. 

“It’s a tough situation, trying to get them caught up to teams we’ve been playing. They’ve been playing baseball since they were four or five years old,” Nelson said. 

“Stuff that we consider common baseball knowledge is unusual to them. Most high school coaches don’t have to teach what tagging up is. We had to take time out of our practice to teach how to tag up.” 

Nelson is in his second season as Lanett’s head coach, and they are rebuilding, but the Panthers are also starting to have more fun on the field and the results have mirrored that.

Lanett is currently 3-1 on the season with the one loss coming by one run to Loachapoka. The production has improved, but the main improvement has been in the attitude of the team. Baseball is more important to the players now than it has ever been. 

“Last year, we came in, and we talked about what we can do to improve the situation,” Nelson said. 

“When we looked at it, there wasn’t any accountability before we got here. Kids were just showing up whenever they wanted to, and last year we made some tough decisions and kicked some good players off the team to let them know that we were going to take this seriously. I think it’s worked out because they’ve bought in more this year and have more accountability this year.” 

The Panthers are also coming into each game with more confidence. Lanett is playing teams closer to the level that some of the younger players are at, and each player has a belief that they can win each game and also excel on the field. 

“My philosophy for coaching has always been… if a kid believes they can run through a brick wall, they’ll go and try to run through it,” Nelson said. “I do think confidence has a part in it… I think knowing that we’re trying to build a program, they’ve got to understand that we’re not just out here goofing off to burn time.” 

One of the hardest things in sports is simply hitting a baseball. It can be one of the hardest things to learn for young players. Lanett’s offense has averaged eight runs per game this season. 

Nelson and the coaching staff have made a concerted effort to just constantly have the kids hitting the baseball in practice. The repetition has made the Panthers a force at the plate. 

“What I learned in the offseason was, we’ve just got to swing the bat, swing the bat, swing the bat as much as we possibly can,” Nelson said. “We started early this season getting them on tee work. Then we progressed to soft toss and live batting. I think that’s what has progressed the offense. We just keep them swinging as much as we possibly can.” 

The Panthers have laid the foundation for the program early on this season. Nelson came into the season with similar expectations to what any coach has. 

“The goal for any coach is to win all your games, even if it’s unrealistic. That’s always the goal,” Nelson said. “We took our first loss last week. I’d like to bounce back next week.” 

Braylon Chambers has been the biggest surprise this season for Lanett. Chambers has filled in at several positions for the Panthers. He has spent time on the mound and behind the plate all while being the team’s best hitter. 

“His attitude has been the big change this year,” Nelson said. “He came in with a completely different attitude this year… Some leaders are vocal, and he’s not very vocal. I said, ‘You need to lead by example.’ He’s kind of bought into that role and led by example for most of the season.” 

With the wins comes support. The rejuvenation within the program has shown itself on the field, and now the community is showing up and supporting the Panthers. 

“Even on the road game last week, we had a lot of fans drive to Loachapoka and support us,” Nelson said. “The support has been very nice this year… I think when they have fans here, they get a little bit more confidence.”