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The Carroll County Panthers were just three outs away. Three outs away from defeating Owen County for the first time this season and punching their ticket to both the 31st District Championship and the 8th Region Tournament. But ultimately, it just wasn’t meant to be.
Down two runs in the bottom of the seventh in the second round of the district tournament, the Rebels took advantage of timely hitting and fielding errors by the Panthers, winning 8-7 on Tuesday, May 22.
Rebels’ Travis Hearne led off the inning by reaching on a muffed groundball to shortstop Trey Boles and scored on an RBI-double that clanged off the centerfield fence by Tyler Ellis.
With two outs, Andrew Mitchuson reached on an error, putting runners on the corners.
Carroll allowed Mitchuson to steal second without difficulty, a play head coach Josh Mefford after the game said may have been a mistake.
Owen County’s Zach Ripy stepped to the plate with the game on the line. He was 0-2 on the day with a groundout and strikeout, reaching base in the second inning on an error.
But the junior will be remembered for making the play of the day.
Ripy sent a Panther pitch straight up the middle for a hit. Centerfielder Jacob Wise fumbled the ball attempting to field it, but it would have been a tight play at the plate either way, Mefford said. Both base runners scored, giving Owen the 8-7 victory.
Both Carroll’s and Owen’s pitchers led their respective teams on offense and defense.
Carroll’s Dillon Craig struck out seven batters and walked none in a complete game on the mound and led the team in hitting, going 3-4 with a pair of doubles and a single and scoring one run.
Ellis pitched a complete game for the Rebels, striking out three, walking two and hitting one batter. He was 4-4 at the plate, scoring three times on three doubles and also hitting a single.
Despite the loss, the Panthers had an impressive hitting performance against a Rebel team that had beaten them twice during the regular season, posting 11 hits. Austin Dunn hit two singles, while Wise, Taylor Hill and Zach Beckham also singled. Boles hit a two-RBI double in the fifth inning, and John Michael Adams hit a two-RBI-single in the seventh inning.
“They played their hearts out today, and I was real proud of them,” Mefford said. “I was really proud of them for scoring the way we did. We scored several runs today, and I knew if we scored some runs for Dillon we could possibly win and make it a game.”
In his first year at the helm, Mefford’s Panthers finished the season 15-16, 8-9 in the region and 2-6 in the district. The team loses just one senior – Evan Mefford – to graduation.
“I think, overall, it went well,” he said. “We had a couple kids that were stepping up as leaders as juniors, and I think they’re going to be even better leaders next year as seniors. I think it will carry over. It was a learning experience for me, not only coaching the game but being that motivator and that disciplinarian that I think I had to work on and I think I learned a lot from this season.”