Panthers rally, take series from Scots
Published 10:34 pm Sunday, March 18, 2018
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It looked like everything was falling apart.
After the Maryville Scots took advantage of some LaGrange College miscues to score four runs in the third inning, they added two more in the fourth to go up 6-1 on Sunday afternoon.
The Panthers weren’t phased.
After getting some momentum back with a pair of runs in the fourth inning, they busted through for six runs in the bottom of the sixth to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
LaGrange College went on to capture an 11-8 victory to take two of three in the USA South series.
The Panthers (14-11 overall) have won seven of their past eight games, and they’ve improved to 4-5 in the conference.
“We overcame some defensive woes early,” LaGrange College head coach David Kelton said. “We handed them a lot. We had one bad inning, and it kind of resembled a little bit what we did early in the year. But they were able to overcome it, which is a sign of the team maturing. Earlier in the year we wouldn’t have overcome something like that, but we did today. That’s huge.”
When LaGrange College lost to Huntingdon on March 3, it was 7-10 overall and 1-4 in the conference.
The Panthers won the final game of that series to avoid the sweep, and they’ve been off and running since.
LaGrange College dropped the first game of the Maryville series, but it won 4-3 on Saturday in 10 innings before rallying for the win on Sunday.
Senior James Poropatic, the only member of the lineup who started for last season’s team that went 40-6, led the way on Sunday with three hits and four RBIs, and his three-run triple in the sixth inning gave the Panthers the lead.
“This is huge,” Poropatic said following Sunday’s game. “I think this could be a turning point in the season. It’s the best baseball we’ve played all season. Hopefully we can carry the momentum going on.”
The Panthers were one of the best teams in NCAA Division III last season, but nearly every key contributor from that team was a senior.
The Panthers won five of their first seven games this year, but during a stretch where they played 11 straight games on the road, they went 3-8.
Now, a new-look LaGrange College team has found its footing and is once again looking like a team that can win a conference championship.
While not playing a home game for a month was a challenge, Kelton believes it helped the team, even if the results weren’t there.
“It was tough,” Kelton said. “But, we grew a lot during that month. We learned a lot about this team. We have so many new position players, plus we had so many young arms and we had to find out what roles could they serve. Are they ready, are they not ready? And so really during that time on the road, yeah we were trying to win games, but we also had to find out what we had. They’re starting to get into a lot better of a rhythm, and they’re starting to play more fundamentally-sound.”
As the Panthers showed on Sunday, they’re also capable of rallying from a big deficit against a quality team.
Maryville came into the series with a 17-3 record, and it is a veteran team loaded with seniors.
“They have guys that are impact players, kind of like we had last year,” Kelton. “Their seniors are impact players. They have a real good group.”
None of that mattered to the Panthers, though, who blew past the Scots to take the series win.
The Panthers got two runs back in the fourth inning on a Poropatic home run and a Jackson Patrick RBI double.
In the sixth inning, Austin Jones had a sacrifice fly and Dawson Weaver had an RBI on a bunt to get the Panthers within two when Poropatic came to the plate with the bases loaded.
After falling behind 0-2, Poropatic fouled off some quality pitches before blasting the ball to the right-field fence for a three-run triple.
“My approach (with two strikes), I think backside and I want to foul off as many pitches as I can and wait on that mistake pitch,” Poropatic said. “And the one I hit was a fastball. He made a mistake pitch, and I didn’t miss it.”
Jack Layrisson capped the six-run inning with an RBI single, and the Panthers led 9-6.
In the top of the seventh, the Scots got within one with a pair of runs, and the Panthers answered with a run in the bottom of the inning on a Rhett Mixon RBI single.
The Panthers capped the scoring with a run in the bottom of the eight.
Zach English threw 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief to secure the save, and Gibson Bitter pitched three innings to get the win.
Austin Fain started for the Panthers, and he gave up six runs in 3 1/3 innings, although only two of those runs were earned.
The Panthers banged out 15 hits, with Poropatic, Layrisson and Patrick each enjoying a three-hit day.
While Poropatic had a team-best four RBIs, Layrisson drove in two runs and Patrick had one RBI.
Mixon had two hits and an RBI, and Jones had a hit and an RBI.
McKinley Erves and Jacob Gassert each had a hit and two runs scored, and Weaver drove in one run.
SATURDAY’S GAME: Ryan Ross, in his first at-bat of the game, came through with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 10th inning to lift the Panthers to a 4-3 win.
Ross entered the game late as a defensive replacement, and he came to bat in the 10th inning with the bases full and no outs.
Kelton called for a suicide squeeze, and Ross fouled the ball off, and it was nearly caught by the first baseman.
Ross shrugged that off and drove a pitch into center field to end it.
“He did a great job,” Kelton said. “He was looking fastball, and he adjusted well.”
The Panthers trailed 3-1 after the fourth inning, but they scored single runs in the fifth and eighth innings to tie it.
In the bottom of the 10th, Rhett Mixon led off with a walk, and he moved to third on a base hit by Jack Layrisson.
After an intentional walk to Jones, Ross stepped to the plate and won it.
Layrisson and James Poropatic each had three of the Panthers’ 10 hits, and Jacob Gassert had two hits and an RBI.
Jones had a hit and two RBIs, and Dawson Weaver had one hit.
Colin Barrett started and he was solid, throwing 7 1/3 innings while giving up six hits and three runs.
Austin Perez entered the game in relief in the eighth inning and got one out, and English threw the final 2 ½ innings for the win.
LaGrange College will be at home on Tuesday for a non-conference game against Berry.