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The Panthers overcame a 5-0 first-inning deficit and the ejection of their head coach to rally together and win 11-5 over district rival Gallatin County in a rare weekday afternoon game, Friday, April 5.
Starting pitcher John Michael Adams struggled early on, allowing four hits and three walks in the top of the first, leading to Gallatin’s five runs. But the junior rebounded, fanning six batters and giving up just one hit the rest of the way. Adams finished with eight strikeouts, five hits, five walks and one hit-by-pitch.
“We didn’t pitch very well that first inning; we had a couple defensive balls that probably should have got caught,” head coach Jimmy Ray said. “(When) you’re behind in the count, they can sit on your fast ball, makes a big difference. John settled down and pitched well after that, pitched a real good game.”
After the rough start, it appeared things would only get worse for the home team.
In the bottom of the second, with courtesy runner Brandon Stewart on base after a leadoff single by Adams, Zakk Hicks hit a groundball to third. He hustled down the line and stepped on the bag as the throw arrived. The field umpire called Hicks out, but first base coach Brian Crank argued that the first baseman had pulled his foot. The umpire confined Crank to the dug out and informed Ray, who was coaching third base, that he also had to go to the dugout. Ray asked the umpire why he had to leave too when he did not do anything. The umpire said it was the rule.
“I said, ‘You going to come out and coach third base? We’re going to need a third base coach,’” Ray said after the game.
It did not sound like much, but apparently it was just enough for the umpire to toss Ray from the game, forcing the head coach to watch the remainder of the game from the press box.
With Ray and Crank off the bases, assistant coach Mike Willhoite stepped in at third, while assistant coach Chris Allen went out to coach first base.
Rather than further discouraging the Panthers, the ejection may have added fuel to their fire. With Stewart now on third, Chase Osborne hit a groundball to second base. He was out at first, but it was enough to score Carroll’s first run of the game.
The Panthers tacked on another run in the bottom of the fourth. Again, Adams led off with a hard grounder to the third baseman, who made a diving stop, but could not make a play. Stewart subbed in and earned two bases on passed balls. Hicks hit an RBI single over second base to bring Stewart around, 2-5.
In the bottom of the fifth, Justin Ray led off with a groundball between first and second that appeared to hit a stray rock in the dirt, causing the ball to pop up out of the second baseman’s reach. He advanced to second on a passed ball, and Dillon Craig brought him around with a double over the right fielder’s head. Craig advanced to third on a passed ball and scored on a groundball to shortstop by Jacob Wise, 4-5.
The Panthers threw the knockout punch in the bottom of the sixth. Osborne led off with a single between shortstop and third base, and Zach Beckham drew a walk. Ray laid down a perfect bunt down the third base line, and all of the runners were safe. Craig hit the ball toward the second baseman, who dove for the ball and threw home. But the throw was late, as Carroll tied the game, 5-5.
Wise hit an RBI single over the second baseman’s head. Austin Dunn followed with a high flyball into the shallow grass between first and second. The ball was dropped, but it was ruled an infield fly by the home plate umpire. Dunn was ruled out, but Beckham scored, 7-5.
Trey Boles walked on a 3-2 pitch after two fouls, and Adams cleared the bases with a triple over the center fielder’s head, 10-5. Hicks brought Adams home with an RBI single down the third baseline for Carroll’s final run of the ballgame.
Craig, who came in to pitch for the final out in the sixth, closed out the game for the Panthers.
Ray said he thought it was just a matter of time before the hits started to fall. “We finally got a key hit and it just kind of snowballed from there and took off,” he said. “I always tell them, ‘Keep knocking on the door, eventually it’s going to open up. Keep putting people on base and eventually you’ll start getting some runs out of it.’”
In the post-game huddle, Coach Ray said some of the guys told him his ejection motivated them. “I thought the kids responded well,” he said. “They could have hung their heads and pouted about it, but we have some good assistant coaches and they took over and did a good job. That’s what it takes to be successful. It’s not just the head coach.”
Willhoite, who is now 1-0 as a high school head coach, said he was very happy with the way the team performed.
“I’ve coached with Jimmy many years, understand his philosophy and just tried to manage the team in the way I thought he would have while I was put in that position,” he said. “Jimmy is a very good baseball coach. I watch, I learn. I try to model what I do after him on my other youth teams. I just sat out there on third base and tried to coach it the way I thought he would and today I was successful and it paid off and we got a big district win.”
The Panthers will have a few more games under Willhoite’s tutelage. Because of the ejection, Ray must sit out the next three games. The Panthers played at Henry County Tuesday, however results were unavailable by press time. Their next game is Thursday against Walton-Verona at Eminence in the opening round of the 8th Region All-A Classic. If they win, they will play again Saturday; if not, Ray’s third game will be at Spencer County on April 15.