Without a doubt, 2020 has been a not so fun year, but it couldn't rob the Saint Ignatius baseball program of two of its best traditions: 1. Senior Night and 2. The passing of the torch to the next captains.
Both occurred last week in a special night at Baldwin Wallace University's Fisher Field. It was an unforgettable evening for the Wildcats.
We announced the captains on social media after Head Coach Brad Ganor took the mic on Senior Night and declared the results of the team's vote. The Baseball Cats voted for John Panstares, Gip Conroy, and Matthew Giberti as the next captains of the program.
Here, we want to tell you more about the three special young men who will light the way for a powerhouse program looking to defend its state championship. You may not know them well yet, as they were robbed of their junior seasons due to the pandemic. But you will know them by the end of the 2021 season. They are a talented, yet humble group.
A special trio of Wildcats
The 2020 campaign was erased by COVID-19, but if it had occurred, Ganor has no doubt that Panstares, Conroy, and Giberti would have played key roles for the Wildcats.
Panstares is a playmaking outfielder, Conroy can anchor the middle of the infield, and Giberti is a stud outfielder and catcher. All three are gamers. They're the type of old-fashioned ballplayers who would play five doubleheaders in five days and love every second of it.
"All three guys would have been key contributors on the varsity level this season," Ganor says. "I expect them to be some of the main guys for next year. They're three great choices."
The trio will have a tall task ahead of them.
Panstares, Conroy, and Giberti will be charged with keeping the team engaged and active during the offseason in the face of a pandemic. Nothing is normal, so the three rising seniors will have to prepare the Wildcats for whatever happens.
"Going into this year will be a lot different. Our early conversations will be about being flexible and staying positive," Ganor says. "Those two things will be key. Obviously we don't know how the school year will play out, but we need to remain positive that we'll be able to play a season and experience Saint Ignatius baseball in 2021. If they can stay flexible and positive, we can get everyone else in the program on board to do the same."
Panstares is ready for the challenge.
"The most important thing is going to be keeping the guys together, with everybody having been separated for so long," says the rising senior. "I think it'll be easier getting the guys back together, because you took it for granted before. Being back together will be a great time. I'm really looking forward to it."
"The three of them bring different aspects of leadership to the role," Ganor adds. "Johnny is a little more vocal, while the other two guys are lead-by-example and mesh well with each other."
A natural, vocal leader
If the name Panstares sounds familiar to you and you can't place it, here's why: John's older brother, Alex '15, starred at catcher for the Wildcats. Alex later played at Williams College, and after graduating in 2019, works as an analyst for KeyBanc Capital Markets in Chicago.
John takes after his brother and has the natural skills of a leader. Ganor has always seen great potential in Johnny.
"As the brother of a former captain, he's evolved into his own natural leader. He's had that personality of an outgoing leader ever since he came here."
Having been around the program for a while, Panstares realizes the program's tradition and the responsibility that comes with it.
He's also thankful that Michael McNamara, Nick Fletcher, and Luke Lashutka modeled leadership this past spring as the 2020 captains.
"I'm super excited to get it started next year after missing this year," says Panstares. "We had a great group of guys this year. The leadership stood out in this class. We're hoping to carry on the tradition and lead the team, a very talented one, to another championship. I'm more of a lead by example kind of guy, but as needed, if something needs to be said, I'm capable of being the guy to step in and use my words."
At the JV level, Panstares stood out as a big-time outfielder. A complete player, Panstares has star potential for the Wildcats.
"Johnny has blazing speed. He's a guy who came here as an infielder and has transitioned to outfield," Ganor says. "His speed is one of the things that he can hang his hat on."
A quiet but confident leader
While Panstares is a bit more outspoken, Conroy is a bit quieter. But that doesn't make him any less of a leader.
Ganor and the Saint Ignatius coaching staff have watched as Conroy has grown and matured into an excellent leader.
"Gip's leadership qualities are more in line with a lead-by-example style, but he has the dedication and work ethic to show everyone what it takes to achieve your goals," Ganor says.
His coaches at the JV level would agree. Conroy has an undeniably strong work ethic and desire to improve his game.
In 2019, Conroy played as a middle infielder for the JV Cats, and did quite well. He's able to play either shortstop or second base nearly flawlessly. His strength is his defensive prowess, but he's also solid at the dish.
"Gip is as technically sound defensively as anyone we've had in a long time," Ganor says.
Another strong characteristic Conroy possesses is his willingness to do whatever it takes to help the team win.
During his sophomore campaign, his coaches called upon him to pitch a few frames vs. Mayfield. Conroy does not have Shane Bieber's stuff, but he stepped onto the mound and delivered for the Wildcats with confidence. That's the type of player every team needs.
A humble, experienced leader
Of the three captains, Giberti is the only with varsity experience. As a sophomore, Giberti was called up to the varsity squad for much of the 2019 title run.
Giberti appeared in 11 games, mostly as a pinch-runner. During his time with the varsity team, Giberti only got three at-bats, but did tally an RBI and scored 7 runs.
Some sophomore playing varsity can sometimes become a little cocky when back down with the JV squad. Not Giberti. He always held himself to a high standard and worked very hard.
"With Matt, he has some varsity experience," Ganor says. "But he also has a lead-by-example mentality."
Giberti is a natural catcher, a whiz behind the dish. But he's also learned how to play the outfield, utilizing his natural speed and filling a need for the Wildcats. With the JV Cats, Giberti thrived behind the plate, but he's also adept at the outfield in tracking down balls.
Beyond his defensive prowess, Giberti is a demon on the base paths and can also hit the ball.
"Matt runs well and swings the bat well," Ganor says. "He's a natural catcher, but he's transitioned to the outfield. He's got some varsity at-bats and experience, which will help."