Being the winningest team in your league’s history has both its perks and its vices.
Maintained success over a long period can create a winning culture and more often than not, trophies and titles. But on the bad side, a good team is the hunted and not the hunter, with teams always gunning to knock the best of its perch.
The Terre Haute Rex is in that situation as the cream of the crop of the Prospect League. Since the collegiate wood-bat league’s formation in 2009, the Rex leads teams all-time in win percentage (.587) and returns to play this season as defending champions.
In terms of starting its title defense, the Rex got off to a good start to that campaign by defeating the Danville Dans, 6-5, at Danville Stadium Friday evening in their season opener.
The game was the first part of a doubleheader for Terre Haute, caused by the first game — originally contested Thursday evening — suspended by rain and postponed until the next night. The layoff began and ended with a Rex lead, leading wire-to-wire and closed by two strong innings of work from pitcher Colten Panaranto, who struck out five of the seven batters he faced while preserving a one-run lead.
Overall, game one gave Rex manager Tyler Wampler plenty of good vibes about his team for the summer, even in the little amount of time he’s seen the squad gel together.
“I thought our guys played well, a lot of good things happened,” said Wampler, who’s entering his fifth year with Terre Haute and his fourth year of managing. “That’s how it is with this series with Danville. One-run tight games seem like it’s every game [with them], so I’m glad we pulled out a close one.”
Indeed, the Rex and the Dans do have a bit of a local rivalry going. Both play in the West Division and are separated by just 46 miles, but they also tend to be tight in the standings, too. The two clubs were separated by just a half game in last year’s division title race, which Danville won.
Before the rain delay in the top of the third inning, the Rex notched a run each on the scoreboard in the first and second innings before tacking on two more in the second inning via RBI singles from Austin Weiler and Aaron Beck.
A hit from Mitchell Garrity scored Will Hayes the next inning to give Terre Haute their biggest lead of the game at 5-0, but a three-run fifth inning from the Dans got them right back in the match. Reed Hjelle’s solo home run in the top of the seventh was then answered by two more Danville runs, cutting the deficit to 6-5.
Fortunately for the Rex, any momentum from the Dans was stopped dead in its tracks with Wampler’s call to put Panaranto in as closer. The Michigan State man made short work of his opposition, clinching a big save for the Rex and allowing just a single Dan to get on base.
“I just came out here and tried to throw the ball hard, I tried to get some stuff in the zone,” Panaranto said. “I tried to create contact but ended up getting it past guys, so I guess that worked out too.”
Wampler knows how competitive the Prospect League can get and how the summer games can quickly turn into a grind. With what he saw Friday out of his new players, he feels more confident that he and his coaching staff can steer them in the right direction.
“We always pay attention to how guys are working in pregame and these guys are working hard,” Wampler said. “We talked a lot about baserunning. ... We got a lot of guys in scoring positions off some bad pitches and made some scoring reads. I’m excited to see them work.”