Panthers open title defense with win
Published 11:55 pm Wednesday, April 11, 2018
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
WEST POINT – The champs are alive and well.
The LaGrange College Panthers rolled to the USA South championship a year ago, and they began their title defense with a hard-earned 2-1 victory over Ferrum on Wednesday in West Point.
Austin Fain and Gibson Bittner combined for a six-hitter, and Austin Jones had two hits including an RBI double as the Panthers got off to a winning start in the USA South tournament that goes through Saturday.
LaGrange College (23-15), the number six seed, will try to move a step closer to a repeat title when it plays second-seeded Piedmont today at 1:30 p.m.
The Panthers didn’t do a whole lot offensively on Wednesday, but it was enough.
Ferrum’s Jacob Holland, one of the conference’s top pitchers, threw 8 1/3 innings, and he limited the Panthers to five hits and two runs.
Fortunately for the Panthers, thanks to Fain and Bittner, those two runs were enough.
Fain started and pitched 5 2/3 innings, and he allowed five hits and one run.
Bittner entered the game with two outs in the sixth inning, and he was nearly perfect.
The only hit Bittner allowed came with two outs in the ninth inning, and he threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings to secure the save.
“(Holland is) the number one pitcher in the conference,” LaGrange College head coach David Kelton said. “You know you’re not going to score a whole lot. Fain just did a phenomenal job. He gave us everything you could ask. And Bittner did a great job on the tail end.”
The Panthers scored single runs in the second and sixth innings to take a 2-0 lead.
In the second inning, the Panthers got it done with small ball.
Jones and Jackson Patrick reached on one-out singles, putting men on first and third for Rhett Hollon.
Hollon was called upon to bunt, and he put the ball in play, and Jones came home with the game’s first run.
In the sixth inning, Jack Layrisson got things started with a one-out walk, and he scored on a double by Jones, and LaGrange College led 2-0.
Ferrum pushed a run across in the bottom of the sixth on a Tim Ortega RBI single.
With a runner on second, Bittner replaced Fain, and he got a groundout to end the threat.
Bittner retired 10 of the 11 batters he faced to get the save and put the Panthers in the winner’s bracket.
“We knew going into this it wasn’t going to be a slugfest,” Kelton said. “We figured it would come down to pitching and being able to execute. And we were able to do it.”
DAY 1 RECAP
No. 1 Methodist 10, No. 8 William Peace 4
No. 5 N.C. Wesleyan 4, No. 4 Huntingdon 2
No. 2 Piedmont 8, No. 7 Maryville 6
No. 6 LaGrange 2, No. 3 Ferrum 1
10 a.m. – William Peace vs. Huntingdon (in West Point)
10 a.m. – Methodist vs. N.C. Wesleyan (at LaGrange College)
1:30 p.m. – Piedmont vs. LaGrange College (at LaGrange College)
1:30 p.m. – Maryville vs. Ferrum