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In a battle of who could execute more plays in clutch situations, it was the Carroll County Panthers who came out victorious, defeating Grant County, 2-1, in the first round of the 8th Region Tournament Monday, May 26, at Henry County High School. The Panthers battled Anderson County from the 30th District Tuesday. The Bearcats defeated South Oldham, 7-3, Monday.
The Panthers scratched a run in the first inning and added an insurance run in the bottom of the fifth. The Braves threatened in the top of the sixth, scoring one run with no outs. But the Panther defense stood tall and held off the Braves’ rally.
“I think getting the run in the first inning helped settle us down a little bit so we could hit that kid,” head coach Jimmy Ray said, referring to Grant pitcher Jason Goe. “He’s supposed to be one of the better pitchers in the Region. I thought we hit him just fine. We hit a lot of balls hard right at some people.”
Leadoff Justin Ray singled to shortstop, and Austin Dunn followed with a single up the middle. A groundout to the pitcher by Zakk Hicks moved both runners, and Keifer McIntyre hit an RBI single to centerfield, 1-0.
In the top of the second, leadoff Hunter Lawson doubled to right center field, but was stranded at third after a groundout and two strikeouts by Panthers’ ace Zakk Hicks.
Jackson “Boo” Donahue and Jacob Wise both hit two-out singles in the bottom of the second, but the streak ended there.
Both teams went down 1-2-3 in the third, bringing up the top of the fourth. Conrad Jaconette hit a leadoff single to right field and moved to second on a sac bunt and to third on a groundout to second base. Hicks fell behind 2-0 on Daniel Gillum, but came back with three straight strikes to sit him down looking and end the inning.
In the bottom of the fifth with one out, Wise reached after taking a hit in the elbow and got into a pickle between first and second base. He eventually made it safely back to first after he collided with Grant’s first baseman, causing him to drop the ball. Ray laid down a sac bunt to move Wise safely to second. Dunn hit a grounder to third base, but the throw was low and dropped by the first baseman, allowing Wise to motor around the bases and score, 2-0.
“One of the backs of our shirts says ‘Hustle Takes No Skill,’ and on Austin’s groundball, he could have jogged to first base, but he hustled all the whole way and in that split second,you drop a ball and pick it back up that’s the difference between being safe and out,” Ray said. “That’s a big run for us. (It) gave us a little insurance and changed the complexion of the game as far as their strategy being down one or two.”
Grant led off the top of the sixth with a single by Goe between short and third. He stole second and scored on a single between second and first by Jaconette, 2-1. Alex Thompson laid down a bunt and was tagged out by first baseman McIntyre, moving Jaconette to second. But a strikeout by Hicks and a fly out to Austin Crowell at second base ended Grant’s rally.
In the bottom of the sixth, Seth Hicks reached on an error and was bunted to second on a two-strike sacrifice by Will Wallace. John Michael Adams singled past shortstop, but a strikeout by Donahue ended the inning.
The top of the seventh began with a little controversy as Grant’s Brennen Dills leaned into a pitch and was hit. The umpire told Ray that the pitch was a strike, but he made a mistake by already signaling it as a ball. Dills eventually walked, which could have spelled trouble for the Panthers. But on the next play, Drew Tucker bunted back to Zakk Hicks at the mound, and the junior made a heads up play by getting the lead runner out at second base.
“(The) force at second was big,” Ray said. “In the last week or so, we’ve been working on, ‘Don’t always assume first base; there’s other options.’ Sometimes we just field and throw to first base automatically, and I heard someone holler, ‘Second,’ and I’m not lying, I was a little nervous, but that was a big play right there. It kept that runner out of scoring position.”
Zakk Hicks came back with another strikeout, his 10th of the game. Grant’s last chance was Austin Johnson, who hit a fly ball into shallow centerfield, but Justin Ray made a sliding basket catch to end the game.
Ray said his pitcher was tired at the end of the game, but “he’s a bulldog. His pitch count was low for a while. He got into some situations and they battled, fouled off several pitches, but he didn’t throw a lot of curve balls so that’s a lot easier on your arm. You couldn’t have pried him off that mound even if you wanted to.”
After the game, Ray told his team to be happy with the win, but not to be satisfied if they want to continue to climb the ladder in the region. “Be happy, but don’t be satisfied; don’t be content,” Ray said. “We’re as good as any of these teams left in the Region, and it’s definitely not going to be given to us, but don’t be satisfied in winning one game.”
Ray said he does not know much about Anderson County, except that they are a good team. To succeed, he said the Panthers need to throw strikes and play good defense. “If we do those, we usually hit it good enough,” he said. “The games we get beat is when we walk a few people and kick the ball around the infield a little bit, but if we play good defense and throw strikes, I think we can beat them.”