Panthers take care of business
Published 1:24 pm Friday, April 26, 2019
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
The LaGrange College Panthers have taken the first step toward a possible three-peat.
In the opening round of the USA South baseball tournament on Thursday, third-seeded LaGrange College used a strong offensive effort to beat sixth-seeded Greensboro 9-7 in West Point.
It was tied 5-5 when the Panthers took the lead with four runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, and they were ahead the rest of the way.
It’s possible to win the title after falling into the loser’s bracket, but it makes the task a lot more challenging, so winning Thursday’s game was important for the Panthers.
“It’s a tough road back,” LaGrange College head coach David Kelton said. “It can be done, but it’s a tough road back.”
LaGrange College’s next game is a tough one.
Methodist, the tournament’s number two seed after going 20-4 in conference play during the regular season, will face LaGrange College at 10 a.m.
Methodist beat Maryville 8-6 in its tournament opener on Thursday.
“It’s going to be a good matchup between us and Methodist,” Kelton said.
In Thursday’s game, it was back-and-forth until the Panthers took the lead for good in the fifth inning.
LaGrange College led 2-0 after the first inning, and Greensboro went on top with three runs in the top of the second.
Back came the Panthers with three runs in the bottom of the third, and the Pride tied it with two runs in the fourth inning.
The Panthers’ fifth-inning rally began when Joe Ruth reached on an infield error.
Next up was EJ Churchich, and he put a perfectly-placed bunt down, and when the throw to first went awry, the Panthers ended up with runners on second and hit.
Trey Pearce then gave the Panthers the lead with a hard-hit single to center field that plated two runs.
With two outs, Austin McDade got a pitch he could handle, and he drove the ball over the left-field fence for a two-run home run.
“He battled to just get a pitch he could do something with,” Kelton said.
While the home run was no doubt the big blow in the inning, Churchich’s bunt was what really got things going.
“Sometimes something that little can give you a little momentum, a little spark,” Kelton said. “I enjoy it when they get executed right. To me, it just goes back to good old fundamental baseball.”
The Panthers didn’t score again, but the nine runs were enough.
“It was one of those games where we would score, and they would score. And then both teams would put up zeroes,” Kelton said. “It got to where it was like, can we score, and then finally put up a zero. We were able to get a little bit of momentum. They were answering every shot that we gave them.”
JR Robinson was the Panthers’ starting pitcher, and he gave up four runs on five hits in 3 1/3 innings.
Gibson Bittner worked the next 3 2/3 innings to get the win, and he allowed two runs on six hits.
Tanner Chafin gave up one run over the final two innings to earn the save.
Offensively, the two men at the top of the order did a terrific job of setting the table.
Cael Chatham and McKinley Erves each had three hits and two runs scored.
Judd Moore, EJ Churchich and Pearce each had two-run singles, Jack Layrisson knocked in a run with a base hit, and McDade had the Panthers’ only extra-base hit, and it was a big one.
Tyler Price had a two-run home run in the fourth inning for Greensboro.