SHIRLEY — The Shirley Panthers are a group of 10 boys aged 8- to 10-years-old, but don’t let their age and lack of depth fool you.
At the start of the season, the Panthers were brought together as part of a random draft — for some of the team, it was their first time on a baseball diamond. The Panthers miraculously put together a perfect 18-0 season and capped it off by winning the Macintosh League Championship.
It was a memorable season for all three Shirley baseball teams, as they finished in the top three slots of the league.
“It was a great season for Shirley baseball,” Shirley Panthers head coach Ryan Donahue said. “It says a lot about the kids who are coming out of Shirley. We are pretty proud of the kids having that much talent in the small community of Shirley.”
The Panthers, who coach Donahue sees as wise beyond their years, never backed down in the face of adversity. Going undefeated was no cake-walk for the Panthers.
“We came from behind in a lot of our games,” Donahue said. “We had a lot of close games. The kids really pulled together.
“We have a lot of kids who truly love to play baseball,” he said, “and in the end it really turned out to be one big family. When one kid was upset after an at-bat or play in the field, the kids would turn right around and console the other kid. It was like they didn’t like seeing their brother upset. It was weird for us as coaches, but it is the reason we stuck together.”
Baseball is as much a physical game as it is mental, and the Panthers understood that. The family atmosphere helped build an unbreakable bond among the players, coaches and parents.
“The kids were committed and really loved each other,” Donahue said. “We even went as far as having team dinners and get-togethers before each of the playoff games. They really had fun. The kids will never forget those experiences they had to become friends off the field.”
The Panthers thrilled the town with exciting plays, memorable at-bats and an unwavering love and respect for America’s pastime.
“Lacrosse and soccer have a never-ending season so it is important that the kids have fun and enjoy baseball,” Donahue said. “The kids improved every single week and that’s what we like to see as coaches. Kids who have success in baseball usually stick with it.
“The kids were aware of situations and swinging at pitches,” Donahue said. “The kids really grew both mentally and physically. They pulled it together when they had to. They really were just one big family. The assistant coaches were incredible. It was a great season that I hope they never forget, because I surely won’t.”
Donahue, who is coaching the district team, is impressed with the numbers the league enjoyed in 2014. This summer, Shirley will have two teams competing in various tournaments this month.
“We have enough numbers for two teams,” Donahue said. “We went from three teams down to two, but we have two teams in the summer league where most towns only have one. The parents are really supportive of Shirley baseball, we couldn’t do it without them.”
Members of the Panthers’ championship team include: Deepak Kolli, Danny McCarron, Ryan Strout, Alex Buddington, Jayce Delong, Brian Holmes, Zach Plunkett, Chase Donahue, Reid Mitchell and Ryan Marchand. Assistant coaches: Sam Holmes and Ken Mitchell.
Follow Ed Niser on Twitter/Tout: @EdNiser.