HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL: Panthers not taking anything for granted in new season

As the Permian baseball team learned last year, like so many other teams across the country, the next game is never a guarantee.
Head coach Tate Criswell and his players understand that as they prepare to not take anything for granted heading into the 2021 season.
“I just think there’s a bigger sense of gratefulness every day that we get to work,” Criswell said. “As we learned last year, tomorrow is not promised and I think there’s a greater sense of urgency to worry about that day.”
COVID-19 brought an abrupt end to the Panthers’ campaign last spring, ending the season with a 13-4-1 record before getting the chance to begin district play.
Permian returns this year looking to replace 14 seniors that graduated last year.
Criswell, however, doesn’t see the inexperience as a weakness.
“I think the biggest thing that we need to work on is after graduating 14 seniors, we’re trying to gain varsity experience with guys that are going to be filling those roles. I don’t think that’s a weakness. I think that’s just something that we have to get done.”
The Panthers return three starters and five lettermen from last year’s team, including Aleck Villa, Teo Banks and McCray Gann.
Villa is a four-year letterman.
“(Villa) will play in the middle infield and the outfield,” Criswell said. “He brings some valuable experience.”
Gann and Banks both signed their letters of intent to play at the Division I level with Banks going to Tulane and Gann to Texas State.
“McCray Gann has been our number one on the mound for the last three years and he brings a lot of leadership,” Criswell said. “Teo Banks can play anywhere on the field and hit anywhere on the lineup. He’s a pretty dynamic player, whether it’s on the bases, on the mound or at the plate.”
What the Panthers lack in experience, they’ll make up for in toughness.
“I think our biggest strength would be toughness,” Criswell said. “I think overall, on all three teams and all three positions, we have some pretty tough kids. They’re mentally tough and physically tough. They’re not going to shy away from adversity. That is our biggest strength.”
As the Panthers near the start of the season, Criswell says another obstacle will be finding the right players in the right spots.
“I think baseball in itself is a challenge,” Criswell said. “The challenge as for the coaches should be figuring out who goes where and who our best nine are. We need to see who fits in what role and give our team the best chance to succeed.”
While district play is still further down the road, Criswell says there should be a lot of competition in 2-6A.
“Our district from bottom to top,” Criswell said. “There’s lots of baseball tradition. A lot of teams have a really strong guys coming back. Anybody in the district is capable of beating you. But we also feel like we’re good enough to give ourselves a chance to win every game.”