The Permian Panthers made quick progress in their first baseball season under coach Tate Criswell, earning the second playoff seed out of District 2-6A.
The Panthers (23-12) now try to extend their season as they take on El Paso Socorro (25-8) in a Class 6A bi-district series at Carlsbad, N.M., High School. Game 1 is set for 8 p.m. Friday with Game 2 at 4 p.m. Saturday. Game 3, if necessary, would also be played Saturday.
Criswell said the key for the Panthers, who have won five in a row, has been taking care of all the little things and letting the big picture form from that.
“Just focusing on and paying extremely close attention to all the details on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “It’s not any magic trick or secret recipe. I think you just show up every day, punch the time card and go to work and be willing to put the team before yourself each and every day.”
Making the playoffs this season, though, could pay bigger dividends for the Panthers in the future as Criswell — Permian’s fourth coach in four year — builds a solid foundation for the program.
“We’ve been talking about the process of achieving the product that we want, and now there’s proof in that process,” he said. “If you do come to work every day and work hard and put the team before yourself, then you eventually get what you want.”
Senior pitcher Seth Higdon said qualifying for the playoffs this season validates the work the Panthers’ six seniors have put in with the program.
“I think it means the most to the senior class,” he said. “Out of the four years that we’ve been here, we’ve been one time. I think we definitely put the most work as a team into this year. We definitely deserve it more than we have any year.”
To get there, several seniors have accepted lesser roles within the team as underclassmen have taken starting spots. While Highdon and Peyton Hutson have been the top two starting pitchers over the course of the season, classmates Christian LaChance, Nate Kizziar, Zane Murphy and Nick Chavez have seen mostly spot duty. LaChance and Murphy have been used extensively as courtesy or pinch runners, while Kizziar had a key pinch-hit appearance in the Panthers’ playoff-clinching victory over Amarillo Tascosa.
“Each senior has a role,” said Kizziar, who was hit by a pitch to ignite Permian’s four-run seventh-inning rally in a 5-4 victory on April 24. “It’s just passing it on to the next guy in line. Having that trust and being able to do that is a big thing. We earn each other’s trust in the weight room and on the practice field.”
In addition, Kizziar said, the seniors have tried to set the proper example for their teammates, leaving a solid legacy for the future.
“We push every underclassman, even our brothers, other seniors,” he said. “We push each other to our limits.”
In addition to Hutson (5-3) and Higdon (3-5), sophomore Tyler Ramage (3-2, two saves) has emerged as a solid third starting pitcher for the Panthers. Manny Guerrero (4-1, one save) and Noey Brito (4-1) have come up with big wins in relief in addition to being regular position players.
In Socorro, Criswell said, the Panthers will have a good measuring stick of just how much progress has been made this year.
“Socorro won the state championship a few years ago (2009),” he said. “They’re always excited to play. They’re a tradition-rich program. They’ve won 25 games this year.
“They hit the ball extremely well and 1 through 9 in their lineup, they’re not going to give away any at bats. We’re going to have to compete well on the mound and work low in the zone.”