Panthers fall in Final Four; Hicks, Dunn All-Tourney team

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By Kristin Beck

Carroll County rallied late to pull within a run of Danville in the semifinals of the All ‘A’ state baseball tournament Sunday. But the Admirals put their foot on the gas in the bottom of the sixth to pull away and win, 7-3. Danville played Beechwood in the championship and lost 9-6 in eight innings. The state tournament was held at the Lexington Legend’s Whitaker Bank Park in Lexington, Ky.

“I don’t think the final score is in any way indicative of how the game was,” head coach Jimmy Ray said. “It was a neck-and-neck game the whole time. The difference was we walked a few batters, hit a few batters and they capitalized on it.”

The Panthers had their opportunities to put more runs across the plate, leaving seven runners stranded on base.

“We left people stranded on second and third several different times and couldn’t get that key hit there to get over the hump and get the lead and see what would happen,” Ray said. “I’m proud of them; they did a good job. We weren’t supposed to be here to begin with, (but) we won a game yesterday and came back today and showed a real good game.”
Seth Hicks started the game on the mound, striking out five batters, walking one and giving up five hits in four innings of work. Justin Ray came in for relief, pitching two innings and giving up two hits, four walks and striking out a batter.

The game started well for the Panthers. In the top of the first, Austin Dunn singled over the second baseman, Seth Hicks walked and Keifer McIntyre singled to right to load the bases. Zakk Hicks hit a blooper over the pitcher, scoring Dunn, for the first run of the game.

“They came out pretty good,” Ray said of his team’s start. “Seth, a freshman on the mound, he came out throwing BB’s early on and that’s the best he’s probably pitched. That’s showing something, a freshman in the final four of the All ‘A’ out there and he did a fine job.”

Seth Hicks forced two grounders and a line out in the bottom half, but the Panthers returned the favor in the top of the second with three straight strikeouts.

Danville lead off the bottom of the second with a hard groundball down the first baseline past a diving McIntyre for a triple. The next batter walked, but he didn’t stay on base long as Dunn caught him at second attempting to steal. The next batter was hit with a pitch, but Seth Hicks settled down, striking out the next two batters with no harm done.

In the top of the third, Seth Hicks hit a triple of his own to center field with two outs, but was left stranded.

Danville led off the bottom half with two straight singles and scored their first run on a fielder’s choice groundball. With two outs, Mason Stamm hit a two-run homer over the right field wall to give his team a 3-1 lead. Seth Hicks hit the next two batters, and Danville scored on an error. But Hicks settled down and struck out the last batter of the inning.

Both teams were blanked in the fourth, moving on to the fifth. Leadoff Jacob Wise got on after a dropped third strike, and Justin Ray took a pitch to his foot. Both runners were safe on a double steal, and Wise scored on a passed ball, 4-2.

steal, and Wise scored on a passed ball, 4-2.

Ray took the mound in the bottom of the fifth and walked the first two batters. But the sophomore southpaw settled down after that and forced three straight outs to end the inning.

Taylor Hill hit a leadoff single between third base and left field, and John Michael Adams followed with a walk. Wise hit a grounder to second, and the Admirals attempted to turn two. They got the runner out at second, but the throw to first was low and bounced into the stands, allowing Adams to score, 4-3.

Danville earned a leadoff bunt in the bottom of the sixth, but the Panthers got the next two batters out on a sacrifice bunt and a lineout. Unfortunately, a throwing error resulted in a run scored, and Ben Mahan hit a two-run double off the wall in left-center, 7-3.

In their last plate appearances, the Panthers struck out in order to end the game.

Dunn and Zakk Hicks were named to the All ‘A’ state tournament team.

“Austin did a good job,” Ray said. “He blocked up a lot of balls behind home plate, had several hits for us, and of course Zakk had a big game yesterday, the way he threw, the way he hit. … They both deserve it and both did a real good job.”

Ray said it was “heartbreaking” to lose when they had a chance to win. “It was right there, and we were close. We gave it all we (could) and that’s all you can ask for.”

Carroll County returns to Panther Field Monday for a rescheduled rain date with district rival Gallatin County. The winner will earn the No. 1 spot in the 31st District Tournament.

“Tomorrow is a gut check,” Ray said. “Our kids usually battle back and respond pretty well. They’re a good group of boys and I think we’ll bounce back pretty well.”

Ray said he told the boys not to let the All ‘A’ be the highlight of the season. “We still have districts coming up, some big games to play and hopefully we can bounce back and see what we’re made of.”

In both All ‘A’ state games, Carroll County had one of the loudest crowds supporting their Panthers. “I thank our fans. We had great fan support,” Ray said. “They hooted and hollered the entire game. The good thing about living in a small town is they definitely showed us support for their school’s teams and it makes it great.”