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For the first time since 2010, the Carroll County Panthers are 31st District Champions, defeating Owen County in the championship, 9-7, Friday, May 23, at Henry County High School. The Panthers also achieved their team goal of winning “The Triple Crown:” 8th Region All ‘A,’ NCKC and 31st District champions. The 2010 squad was the first to achieve this feat.
John Michael Adams, Keifer McIntyre, Zakk Hicks and Seth Hicks were selected to the 31st District All-Tournament Team.
“When we were playing good baseball, one thing we did is we got several two-out hits, never gave up, battled back. We did a lot of that today, so hopefully that’s a good sign of getting back on track of how we were earlier in the season,” head coach Jimmy Ray said.
The game began Wednesday, but was delayed in the bottom of the fourth inning due to severe thunderstorms. The field was not in good enough condition Thursday, pushing the game back to Friday.
With the win, Carroll drew a Memorial Day match up with Grant County from the 32nd District. The Braves lost 9-0 to Simon Kenton in the district championship. The Panthers and Braves met April 18 at Grant County, with the Braves winning, 7-0.
“We’ve got a chance to hopefully do something in the Region, you never know,” Ray said. “It’s a whole lot better going into the region being a winner than a loser because there’s never been any upsets so far so we’ll get to play a district loser and hopefully have a better chance.”
Mistakes hurt the Panthers in the first half of the game. After a strikeout looking, starting pitcher Seth Hicks walked Austin Fitzgerald, and Owen’s Jarrod Ball blasted a triple to right field for the game’s first run.
Carroll’s Justin Ray led off the bottom of the first with a walk, and McIntyre hit a two-out single, but it was not enough to start a rally.
Hicks and Rebels pitcher Cameron McAnally sat down the side in the second inning, and Hicks struck out two more batters in the top of the third.
Ray earned another walk in the bottom of the third, and, with two outs, Zakk Hicks doubled past shortstop to put runners in scoring position. A wild pitch during McIntyre’s at-bat led to both a walk and a run scored, 1-1. During Seth Hicks’ at-bat, McIntyre took a big lead to about midway between first and second, forcing McAnally to run toward him for a pickoff play. The distraction was enough to score Zakk Hicks from third and give the Panthers a 2-1 lead.
But a handful of Carroll mistakes allowed Owen to recapture the lead in the fourth. Michael Stewart and Tanner Smith were on board with a hit-by-pitch and walk, respectively. Josh Spaulding hit a grounder back to Seth Hicks at the mound. Hicks threw home to catcher Austin Dunn, but Stewart was able to slide into Dunn’s glove and knock the ball loose, 2-2.
A wild pitch scored another run, and Trevor Smith drew a walk to put runners on the corners. Ray came to the mound and made a pitching change, bringing in Adams. Fitzgerald drew a walk and ball hit a two-RBI single into left field, 5-2. A pop foul to third base ended the inning.
But the Panthers kept their heads up and battled back. Will Wallace led off with a walk, and Adams singled up the middle. Alex Burns subbed in as a courtesy runner for Wallace, and Jackson “Boo” Donahue laid down a bunt back to the pitcher, who threw to first, but there was no one there, allowing Burns to score, 5-3. Evan McMahan subbed in to run for Adams, and Jacob Wise drew a walk to load thebases, which is where the game was suspended due to lightning.
When play resumed Friday, McAnally resumed at the mound. Justin Ray hit a sac fly to left center, which was just enough to score McMahan from third. Dunn followed with an RBI double to left to tie the game, 5-5. With Wise at third and Dunn at second, Zakk Hicks hit a pop foul down the first baseline. Two Rebels collided to make the catch, but no one was covering home plate. Wise snuck in from third to give the Panthers the lead.
Ray said he was surprised to see McAnally back on the mound for the restart. “I thought the big run we got was on the pop up over there (pointing to the Owen County dugout) when no one covered the plate. Jacob’s down here and Jacob’s as fast as any kid around. I tried to be quiet then they wouldn’t say anything, but I’m not very quiet when I coach, and he hustled in there, and a lot of people aren’t going to score right there.”
Adams returned to the mound for the top of the fifth, striking out two batters and forcing a fly out to Donahue in left.
Seth Hicks led off the bottom half with a walk, and Wallace bunted him to second. Adams grounded out to shortstop, moving courtesy runner Tyler Stewart to third. Donahue stepped up and hit a big two-out single to left field, 7-5.
Adams struggled to start the sixth, walking the first two batters and bringing Ray to the mound for a talk. After a pop up to Zakk Hicks at second, Ball hit a grounder to Austin Crowell at shortstop, but the ball scooted between his legs, allowing a run to score. Nolan Tackett followed, hitting a fly ball to center field. Crowell and Justin Ray pursued it, but lack of communication allowed it to drop between them, as Owen scored the tying run. Ball was out at second after tagging up on the fly ball, and Adams got his team out of the inning with a strikeout.
Owen brought Tackett to the mound for the bottom of the sixth. Ray hit a leadoff single between shortstop and third base and advanced to second on a sac bunt by Dunn. Ray advanced on a passed ball, and, with two outs, McIntyre drew a walk. Seth Hicks hit a fly ball to right field that was misjudged and allowed both runners to score, 9-7.
Adams stepped to the mound in the top of the seventh and closed out the win for the Panthers, striking out the first two batters and forcing a groundout to Zakk Hicks at second to end the game. Ray said he talked to Adams before the district tournament about stepping upas a senior, and he was proud of the way Adams led his team to the win.
“Before the game I told them, ‘It’s a battle. The best hour of your life is what we need right now,’” Ray said. “… Several people did a good job. It was hard to pick an All-Tournament team. Will had a great tournament for us, probably the best he’s played. He had several key hits, a big bunt, several kids played well. It was a good win.”