Panthers earn postseason honors

Benton senior Yates Prickett throws a pitch in the 6A state championship game. Prickett earned All-State honors for the Panthers, while seven other Benton players earned All-Conference. TONY LENAHAN/The Saline Courier
Tony Lenahan
Sports Editor

After a season of making an improbable trip to the 6A state championship game as a 4 seed, the Benton Panthers baseball team earned postseason honors, with one making All-State and many more earning 6A West All-Conference honors.
Senior right-handed pitcher Yates Prickett was the lone Panther to make All-State, his second such honor in two years.
“He’s been big for us the last couple of years and he earned it,” Benton Coach Mark Balisterri said. “A lot of coaches in the state have respect for him. I’m very proud of him.”
Prickett, who recently committed to pitch at Henderson State University, led the Panthers (22-12) with 61 innings, wins (6-3), ERA (1.72) and strikeouts (37).
“He was just a competitor on the mound,” Balisterri said of his All-Stater. “Every time he pitched, you just knew you had a chance of winning the game. He’s well deserving.”
Benton also had four seniors named All-Conference, in shortstop Drew Chilton, centerfielder Beau Brewer, second baseman Jared Kelley and pitcher Caleb Muns.
“They were guys that produced all year long,” Balisterri said. “All those seniors just did a great job. It was fun to watch them do that.”
Chilton hit .315 with seven doubles, 27 runs and 19 RBIs, and tied for the team lead with six stolen bases.
“Chilton is a three-year letterman,” Balisterri said. “Drew made everything click. We’ve said it year after year. When he played good, everybody played good. I’m glad he finished his career like he did.”
Playing a solid centerfield defensively for the Panthers, Brewer also led Benton belting six home runs and knocking in a team-leading 29 runs with three doubles, all while batting .357.
“Beau Brewer had two great years,” Balisterri said. “He just hit the ball time after time after time. He played good defense.”
Kelley, making the All-State Tournament Team as well, also hit .357 with five doubles and a team leading two triples, scoring 21 times and finishing with 13 RBIs.
“Jared Kelley is the most steady player we had,” Balisterri said. “You knew exactly what you were going to get every time he went out there and played. He was going to get a hit or two every game and he was going to make plays. He was just a steady guy. Every coach wants guys who are consistent and he was the epitome of consistent.”
Muns, who also made the All-State Tournament Team, was second on the squad in innings (59), wins and strikeouts as he finished 5-3 with a 2.37 ERA and 34 strikeouts.
“What can you say about Caleb,” Balisterri said. “He just went out there and competed every time he went out there on the mound. He ended up being one of the best pitchers in the state at the end of the year. He’s a young senior. His best is ahead of him.”
The Panthers will also be returning some All-Conference selections next year as the Panthers leading hitter, junior Logan Easterling, will return behind the plate next year, as will junior outfielder Michael Allison.
Easterling hit .376 from the leadoff spot and also led the team with 34 runs and eight doubles, and was second on the team with five home runs and 22 RBIs, while also swiping six bases.
“Logan is just a machine,” Balisterri said. “He’s definitely one of the best catchers in the state, one of the best hitters in the state. We finished fourth in the conference so we could only have one All-State player this year, but there’s no doubt if we would have had more than one selection, he would have got All-State. He’s just a great player. I can’t tell you how excited we are to have him back next year.”
Allison came on at the end of the year as he wasn’t a starter until midway through the year. But once he hit that starting lineup, he didn’t come out finishing with a .339 average.
“We knew he had the potential, but we were just waiting for him to do something to get an opportunity to put him in the lineup,” Balisterri said. “When we inserted him in the lineup, I’ll be honest, he may have been the best hitter on our team at the end of the year. And he made some great plays in the outfield.
“Really a guy that turned our season around for us. He was a big part of it. I think he’s got a big future ahead of him and we’re excited to have him back, too.”
Junior third baseman Peyton Pallette rounded out the Panther postseason honors with All-Conference Honorable Mention.
“Peyton is just a gamer,” Balisterri said. “With his arm, we think he’s going to be a guy who is going to be a force to reckon with on the mound. He’ll probably move over to shortstop and be our shortstop next year. We’re excited about him.”