STEUBENVILLE - New West Liberty University head baseball coach Eric Burkle has recruited the Ohio Valley pretty hard in his attempts to build up the Hilltoppers under his watch.
Right before the new school year began he pulled one more are player into the fold when Steubenville Catholic Central graduate Jimmy Panella signed to continue his academic and athletic careers at West Liberty.
"I like the new baseball coach a lot," said Panella. "He played a big role in me picking West Lib. He seems like he is going to change the program around. I liked that."
HE’S A HILLTOPPER — Central graduate Jimmy Panella has signed to continue his athletic and academic careers at West Liberty University. He is flanked by his father, Jim Panella; his mother, Vanessa Panella; and his sister, Gia Panella. Also in attendance were Central’s principal Rich Wilinsiki, head baseball coach Don Young and athletic director Steve Daley.
-- Fred Younce
Added Central head baseball coach Don Young of Burkle's role in Panella's decision, "I think the coaching change played a big factor. Coach Burkle showed interest in Jimmy. I think that was a big thing."
Another factor in Panella's decision is that he knew some of the players already recruited into the West Liberty system.
"It definitely played a role," Panella said. "I talked to a couple of kids from Richmond and a kid from St. Clairsville, and it helped me out. It eased my decision knowing some kids."
Those factors, along with a couple others, helped Panella decide among West Liberty, Wheeling Jesuit, Bethany, and Waynesburg.
"I liked how it was close to home, and that it has a bunch of different majors because I'm undecided," said Panella. "I like that there's a lot to pick from."
Panella, coming off a year that saw him play major roles in a Central sectional title as well as a Steubenville Legion Post 33 District 10 championship, hopes his success will transition to the collegiate level.
"I had a good year and I think going to West Liberty and doing my best will pay off," said Panella. "Hopefully I can be a part of rebuilding West Lib."
Panella could see time as a pitcher and at third base under Burkle, but is expected to see more time on the mound at first.
"I think they want to look at him first as a pitcher," said Young. "He really came on this year, and I think he'll really be able to help them at that level."
Young also feel that, much like one of his Central and Post 33 teammates, Panella's game has a big upside.
"I'll say the same thing I said about Steven (Mihalyo), they could both be back for us next year," said Young. "They were young seniors so their best days are ahead of them.
"Jimmy's a strong player. I was thinking back to the days I was here as a pitching coach, and we had some very good pitchers, but I'm not sure anyone had a season, since I've been around, like Jimmy had this year. That kind of came out of nowhere.
"Last year as a junior he had a good year, but he really picked it up this year."
In Panella the Hilltoppers also gain another valuable trait - a player that has shown an ability to lead by example.
"That was the other big thing I saw from Jimmy this year," said Young. "He took the leadership role. He helped the younger guys. He was always talking to guys out on the field when we were practicing and in games, letting them know what they should be doing if they need any help.
"He really helped me a lot my first year because he'd been around me for so long. Without even having to talk to him about it he took that leadership role. He and Steven were the two that did that mainly because they had been around me and knew what I wanted.
"I was real happy with Jimmy. I think he really matured a lot over this past year."