On Saturday, Gananda baseball got to party like it’s 1999.
The Blue Panthers won their first sectional title in 20 years after a 5-0 win over Warsaw in the Class C1 championship at Dwyer Stadium in Batavia.
Back in January, there was concern about how Gananda would even field a team. They discussed merging with other nearby schools before a few extra guys were able to, finally, fill out the roster.
The Panthers last two sectional playoff experiences were hard to forget. They got hammered by 20 runs in the 2017 sectional semifinals and lost in the title game last year to the eventual state champs in Avon. Head coach Bill McClare called the Braves a “buzzsaw.” Gananda was simply in the wrong class at the wrong time.
However, the Panthers thought those two experiences steeled them for this year’s championship run.
“When we got there this year, I felt like our seniors can lead these guys and get the job done and it wasn’t too big for them,” McClare said.
The Panthers were welcomed back to Gananda with fire trucks blaring and locals cheering. It was an eye opener to the team how much the title meant to their community.
“We got a lot of support from people that graduated from here and people that some of us didn’t even know that lived around here,” said senior Tim McClare, son of the head coach. “Then, going around on the buses and just seeing a bunch of people walk out of their houses and cheer us on, it was just a great feeling.”
Among the Gananda residents happy to see their boys come home with a brick were the last boys to come home with a brick.
“We went out and some of the guys from the ’99 class were following along. They actually were at the game,” Bill McClare said. “They met us out. It was really cool. It was really a neat thing.”
“I don’t really know a lot about the 1999 team, but I know they were pretty good and to be on the same level as them, that’s crazy,” said senior Zach Ciprich.
It’s been over a decade since any Gananda boys team won a sectional title. The Panthers are proud to give their school a change of pace when it comes to sectional performance.
“You wanted to be that guy to deliver it, but you don’t want to be cocky about it,” said senior Jayden Castrechini. “I feel like it’s humbling to get to actually make people happy for once in this town.”