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Watch now: Lane Funneman has been Pana's ace on a quest to first baseball regional title since 2001

Watch now: Lane Funneman has been Pana's ace on a quest to first baseball regional title since 2001

Funneman_Lane 1 08.30.20.JPG

Pana's Lane Funneman (10) throws during the Millikin University Fall Baseball League at the new Workman Family Field.

DECATUR — Lane Funneman has been waiting for this opportunity; a chance to send Pana back to a regional championship, to avenge those season the Panthers took lumps on the baseball diamond.

The senior left-handed pitcher know it has been since 2001 when Pana last won a regional baseball title and hasn't won 10 games since 2016. Last year was supposed to be different, a chance for a team that has grown up to make a splash. That season, of course, was canceled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Funneman and his team had to wait. And with the IHSA moving the baseball and softball seasons to the summer, there's more waiting. In eight months, Funneman will play for Pana for the first time since he was a sophomore and it will be his final chance to be a part of a regional championship team.

"We weren’t real good freshman year but we’re starting to build up," Funneman said. "(Last) season we were supposed to be real good. I can’t wait to get to the field senior season."

On Sunday in his debut for Team Gold, made up of primarily Charleston baseball players, at the Millikin Fall Baseball League, Funneman delivered. He, like some baseball and softball players, haven't seen nearly as much live competition in the last six months as they would have in a normal year. He had to shake off some rust after back-to-back walks to start the game.

Then he delivered with five straight strikeouts before putting two runners on and ending his day with another strikeout. All six outs he recorded came with a strikeout. Funneman mixed an 82 mile-per-hour fastball with a slider and a whooping 12-6 curveball.

“It’s pretty fun," Funneman said. "I started off rough and kind of eased into it. It was rusty getting back into the groove. It just takes time. You’ve got to kind of work into it; the first couple pitches you’ve just got to find it."

He's poured sweat equity into the Pana program, has been a captain since he was a freshman and is the team's ace pitcher.

“In the middle of the season, coach kind of named me as a captain and that’s when I took the role as the ace," he said.

Funneman has the "it" factor. Though there's no junior high team, Pana baseball coach Mike Malisia used to see Funneman at the park or in travel ball making all the right plays.

On top of that, he had good size for a freshman and could make an immediate impact. 

“Whenever you can see him play, he knew what base to go to and he knew where to backup," Malisia said. "He had a baseball understanding. I felt comfortable from Day 1. I felt comfortable having him be the leader on our team."

Funneman said he saw live batters at the beginning of August but it had been awhile before that. The shutdown to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 had nearly stopped sports in their tracks. He said he "kind of stayed home" for the first few months and eventually started going to baseball a couple of times a week when it was approved.

There's some natural rust to have to shake off, and the fall league provides that opportunity. 

“It will help a lot," Funneman said. "It will keep you in the groove of everything."

After this, he'll eventually play for the Panthers again and get a chance to avenge a lost season for which he and Malisia each had high expectations. 

“We haven’t been very competitive. Baseball has kind of been on the back burner here in Pana," Malisia said. "But now, with these kids like Lane and kids who follow him and say, ‘It’s time to turn the page here. Let’s be competitive, win a regional and get to sectional.’ We have a team that can do that and Lane would be a good leader."

PHOTOS: Millikin Fall Baseball League


Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25


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