Prep baseball: Former Pekin coaches relish Reighard's success

Chad Drury/The Courier

Pekin High School baseball coach Curtis Reighard (second from right) addresses his team in front of the dugout during Tuesday's Class 1A substate final against No. 4 Calamus-Wheatland at Solon High School. Reighard is the first coach in school history to take the Panthers to the state tournament, which begins today in Des Moines.

At one point, Byron Peyton remembered Pekin High School baseball coach Curtis Reighard as someone determined to play baseball, only to be hampered by knee injuries during his career.

Now he views him as someone else, the coach who finally put the program over the top.

Peyton served as the Panthers' head coach from the mid-1980s through 2000, and brought along current Fairfield assistant coach Jeff Eeling for a co-coaching gig in the later years of his tenure. Neither could break that glass ceiling in their stints guiding the program, but Reighard did, and the Panthers will face top-ranked Mason City Newman today at Principal Park in Des Moines.

"When I saw that Pekin made it, it was a pleasant surprise because I know the history of the program," said Peyton, who has coached at Dallas Center-Grimes since 2001. "I'm very happy for 'Pie.' Jeff and I both coached him and he had some injury issues, and he was unable to be effective. He always wanted to play so bad, because he liked the game a lot."

"They're on a roll right now," Eeling said before the Trojans faced Davenport Assumption in a 3A substate final Wednesday. "I'm really happy for them. To get to state you have to be good, have some luck and catch a break. They've done it all."

Baseball has been a tough draw at Pekin over the years, but Peyton and Eeling both had strong runs with the program. They took the team to substate against Center Point-Urbana but came up short. Eeling had a 30-3 team that lost in the district finals to Albia, then took a team to substate in 2005, where it ran into the Wilton buzzsaw that finished 42-0 and had two NCAA Division I players on the roster.

"It seemed like in 2002 (the 30-3 year), at the end of the year we were kind of going down at the wrong time. We'd hit well, but then we started to struggle a bit," Eeling said. "When we lost to Wilton, we were up 3-2 and booted a double-play ball that opened the door for them."

Peyton had to rebuild the program when he took over in 1984, and it was a long process.

"When I went there, I believe they were winless the year before. I had a five-year plan where I wanted to be above .500 and contend for conference titles," he said. "We won a couple of those, and then Jeff and I co-coached and we did a pretty good job with the kids, but it was still an uphill battle."

Both coaches are proud of what this group of Pekin players has accomplished, even if they aren't familiar with them as much as they are the parents of those players. Eeling coached Brady Latcham's father in 1993, and Latcham drove in two runs in the 7-0 upset win over No. 4 Calamus-Wheatland in the 1A substate final. Latcham is hitting .156 on the season.

"That's kind of when you know things are lining up for you," Eeling said. "That, and throwing a no-hitter really helps.

"Pie has really gotten it done. They've gotten hot at the right time."

Reighard, who has 13 players on the roster, is no longer the injured player who never was healthy enough to make a difference. He's much more. Reighard himself referred to Peyton and Eeling as "great baseball coaches that have been at Pekin" after his team upset Calamus-Wheatland.

"I mean, he's had a kid drafted in the fifth round of the Major League draft," Peyton said of former pitcher Keaton Winn. "Now he's taking a team to state. He's obviously done a good job there.

"Getting to the state tournament in baseball is not an easy thing," Peyton said. "Anything can happen in this game, but I smile at that program because Pie has coached them to this."

Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury

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