By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Over his four years at Canisius College, Connor Panas has evolved as a hitter.
The 22-year-old’s confidence continued to build as Panas gained experience with the Golden Griffins, getting better each season and learning from the last. The senior became one of the biggest threats in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and gave his team everything they could ask for, playing multiple positions around the diamond, hitting out of various spots in the lineup, and always intimidating and impressing.
“It’s always an exciting at-bat when he’s up,” teammate Brett Siddall said.
Added Griffs hurler Devon Stewart: “Obviously Connor is very good for us. He was good for us last year, good for us this year, and he’s getting his swing back a little bit and has played very well.”
“He’s been unreal,” sophomore pitcher Zachary Sloan said.
Panas says he didn’t do much differently this year, one that saw him hitting .379/.476/.633 with 10 home runs, 17 doubles, seven triples, 65 runs scored and 67 runs driven in through 62 games before his team headed into the Springfield Regional after winning the MAAC championship in Canisius College history. The Etobicoke, Ont., native kept it simple, had a positive mindset, and used his experience to propel him to his best season.
“[I’m proud of] maintaining a pretty good batting average and seeing a lot of power increase from last year to this year,” Panas said, after adding a solo home run to his total to lead off Saturday’s regional game against Missouri State’s top hurler Jon Harris. “I’m just lifting harder, more reps over the years, as well as not just statistics-wise, but I’ve become more of a versatile player for our team, with all the injuries …
“I’ve never played centre field before this year and now you see me out there running down balls. It’s pretty neat just to be able to play a variety of positions to help our team win.”
Adding a new position to his repertoire certainly can’t hurt the left-handed-hitting senior, who can start thinking about his draft potential now that his final collegiate season has come to a close, after the Griffs lost two straight regional matchups on Saturday to be eliminated from the road to Omaha.
“I’ve just been trying to win that [MAAC] championship as well as do well in the regionals, but I guess now we’re moving forward and it will be on my mind,” he said. “I am pretty excited about it … come June with the draft, if my name gets called, I’ll be honoured. Hopefully I can get a chance somewhere. I’m very excited for the next few weeks.”
Panas was a member of the only two Griffs squads to ever win the conference title, the first championship victory coming in his sophomore year before closing out his senior season with a run on the road to Omaha after being named MAAC tournament MVP, going 13-for-26 with 12 RBI.
“Being a senior, I wanted to win another championship,” he said. “That feeling, sophomore year, winning that was unbelievable. It was probably the best feeling I’ve ever had in baseball, going to the NCAA regionals at UNC …
“It’s amazing, in four years to get two championships. All four years we’ve been in the MAAC championship final, obviously freshman and junior year [didn’t go as well], we could have had four rings on our fingers, but it’s a big step for Canisius College and I hope they do well in the future.”
For the first time in four years, that future for the Golden Griffins doesn’t include Panas, a fact that struck him when he returned to the dugout after his last at-bat in Springfield, a groundout to Oregon shortstop Mark Karaviotis.
“When I got out and was running back to the dugout it hit me,” he said. “I was trying to hold it in but it was pretty hard, just realizing that was my last at-bat ever in college, so it was pretty [emotional] … It’s been an amazing ride here at Canisius. We’ve got two championships under our belts and just coming to regionals and trying to compete two times, it’s been a great opportunity.”