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It took two days to accomplish, but once the storm clouds rolled away, the Carroll County Panthers (19-9) emerged victorious over the Gallatin County Wildcats (3-21) 11-0 in the first round of the 31st District tournament on Tuesday May 24. The Panthers were leading 8-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning when Zach Wise hit a three-run walk-off homerun over the fence in right-center field to end the game by run-rule. With the win, the Panthers automatically qualify to play in the 8th Region tournament at Simon Kenton High School.
“We wanted to finish it right there; we didn’t want (them) to come back and give them a chance to mount a rally,” head coach Jay Jones said. “We wanted all the momentum we could to get out of here today and try to get ready to play the winner of (Owen versus Henry) because it’s going to be another tough one I think.”
Derek Williams started the game Monday May 23, striking out two batters in three complete innings. He was two pitches into the fourth when the game was postponed due to storms.
The Panthers scored their first run of the game in the bottom of the third. Trey Boles singled to left field and advanced to second on a passed ball. Ethan Stewart hit an RBI single between first and second to bring Boles around for the score.
Stewart started the re-start for the Panthers on the mound and struck out three batters. Dillon Craig came in for relief in the sixth inning and retired the side with two strikeouts and a groundout to first base.
Jones praised the work his pitching staff and their ability to throw strikes and not let the Wildcats have any free passes.
Wise did not play in the first half of the game due to shoulder soreness, but he made his presence known in the second half, hitting a two RBI double to shallow right field in his first plate appearance of the day, 2-0.
With bases loaded, Stewart hit a single to left field, scoring two more runs. Tyler Gross followed with an RBI single to right field to give Carroll a 5-0 advantage.
In the bottom of the fifth, Williams lead off with a walk, and Austin Crowell hit a single to left field to put runners on first and third. Craig hit an RBI double to right field to add another run to the Panther total.
Following two leadoff singles by Stewart and Gross, Brady Hill hit an RBI groundout to shortstop, 7-0. With two outs and runners on first and second, Wise hit his homerun over the fence to end the game.
Jones pointed out that while the Panthers run-ruled the Wildcats, the game was tighter than it appeared in the first half of the game. “It was still a little tight when it was 1-0, and we got a few on, got them over, got them in,” he said. “We didn’t execute some bunt situations today very well at all, but we’re going to get back to work on that. We swung at good pitches, put the ball in play and ran the bases hard. I’m pleased with the results and we’re going to get right back here to work tomorrow.”
Crowell had a breakout game, hitting 3-3 with three singles and a hit by pitch. Jones said Crowell is “starting to ooze baseball. … He’s just swinging at good pitches now, just kind of settled in, and the game has finally slowed down to him,” he said. “Just being a freshman, he’s going to be a very important piece. … He’s basically played it all except first base and catcher, and I bet he could do that if we needed him to. But love to have him heating up this time of year.”
Stewart was also 3-3 with a single, two RBIs and a walk; Craig was 2-3 with a double, a single, an RBI and a walk; Gross was 2-3 with two singles and an RBI; Wise was 2-3 with a double and a homerun; and Boles was 1-2 with a single and two walks. Williams drew three walks, while Hill and Platt both notched RBIs.
Jones said he hopes that Carroll’s tougher schedule down the stretch will help them in tournament play. The Panthers had lost six of their last seven, including the last game in the SE Kentucky Invitational in which the JV team played, before getting a win at Fairdale to close out the regular season.
“We’ve been playing better; we just haven’t won a game,” he said. “We’ve been playing some tough teams coming down the stretch, and then we finally got over the hump against Fairdale and then to get now to the district championship and to give yourself a chance to win, guarantee yourself to play in the region, we’re excited about where we’re at.”