Panthers earn come-from-behind win
Published 12:15 pm Saturday, April 27, 2019
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
They’re halfway home.
With Friday’s 7-5 come-from-behind win over Methodist, the LaGrange College Panthers improved to 2-0 in the USA South baseball tournament, and they’re two wins away from the championship.
The Panthers (28-9) will host North Carolina Wesleyan on Saturday at noon for their third tournament game, and if they win, they’ll play for the title on Sunday.
It’s a double-elimination tournament, so if the Panthers had lost Friday’s game, their quest for a third consecutive conference championship wouldn’t have been over.
Through seven innings, it looked like the Panthers might indeed be headed for the loser’s bracket.
The Panthers came through with some late-game magic to earn the dramatic win, though.
The Panthers scored two runs in the eighth inning to get within one, and they tied it in the top of the ninth on Cael Chatham’s RBI single.
LaGrange College surged ahead on Judd Moore’s two-run hit in the top of the 10th, and Tanner Chafin set Methodist down in the bottom of the inning to finish it.
“This game is such a big confidence boost for the guys,” LaGrange College head coach David Kelton said. “They know how good Methodist is. That’s a tough opponent. To be able to come from behind is huge.”
The game-winning rally began with Joe Ruth hammering the ball to center field for a leadoff single in the 10th inning.
Next up was EJ Churchich, and he reached on a bunt single, putting runners on first and second with no outs.
Trey Pearce then advanced both runners with a sacrifice bunt, and Moore stepped to the plate with men on second and third and one out.
With a drawn-in infield, Moore bounced the ball over the first baseman’s head, and Ruth and Churchich both came home on the double to give the Panthers a two-run lead.
“I was just looking to get a ball into the outfield,” Moore said. “The infield was in. I was just trying to make enough contact to get at least get it over their heads.”
When he saw the ball make it safely into the outfield, Moore said “I was just running down the line yelling let’s go, we’ve got this.”
Armed with a two-run lead, Chafin climbed onto the mound in the bottom of the 10th looking to seal the deal.
“You want to start getting excited, but you remind yourself it’s not over yet,” Chafin said.
It was a suspense-free inning, with Chafin setting the Monarchs down in order.
Chafin and Spencer Douches threw 7 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Richie Post.
After Douches settled things down by throwing 2 1/3 shutout innings, Chafin held Methodist to three hits and no runs in his five innings.
The bullpen has played a key role in both of the Panthers’ tournament victories.
In Thursday’s 9-7 win over Greensboro, Gibson Bittner and Chafin combined to pitch 5 1/3 innings.
“The first two games, the bullpen’s done a fantastic job,” Kelton said. “Yesterday we went to our bullpen and they kept us in the game and helped win the game for us. We put a ton of emphasis on our bullpen and how we set it up all year long. They’ve been able to do this for us throughout the season. They let us get our feet under us. And Chafin just shut them down.”
In Friday’s game, the Panthers jumped out a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning.
Churchich knocked in a run with a base hit, and he scored when Trey Pearce reached on an error.
The Monarchs tied it with two runs in the second inning, and they took the lead with three runs in the bottom of the third.
It remained a 5-2 Methodist lead until LaGrange College got something going in the eighth inning, with Pearce and Moore coming through with RBI singles to to make it a one-run game.
The Panthers tied it in the ninth inning.
Pinch-hitter Braden Shealy got things started with a base hit, and he moved to second on Rhett Hollon’s sacrifice bunt.
Shealy scored on Chatham’s base hit.
“I don’t think we handled a little bit of adversity early like I wanted us to,” Kelton said. “I saw some things we need to get corrected, but I was glad to see once we got a little momentum, we are able to just plug away and find a way.”
While momentum wasn’t going the Panthers’ way, Moore said “we always know we’re never out of the fight. We just keep it going. Once something gets started everybody just gets into it. There’s a lot of energy, and everybody feeds off of that.”
Moore finished with two hits and three RBIs, and Chatham, Churchich and Pearce each had two hits and an RBI.
Ruth had two hits, and McKinley Erves, Jack Layrisson and Barden Shealy each had a hit.
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