Panthers complete sweep of Centenary to claim first ever NCAA regional win

Published 9:51 pm Saturday, May 21, 2022

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The fourth-ranked LaGrange baseball team overcame a five-run deficit to outlast Centenary 14-9 and complete a three-game sweep of the LaGrange Region before a large crowd at Cleaveland Field in Williamson Stadium on Saturday.

The Panthers improved to 40-6 with their ninth straight win, eight coming in the postseason. The Panthers won their first ever NCAA regional and now wait to see who their opponent will be in the Super Regional.

“To win this regional means everything. We have had some good teams come through this program,” said Coach David Kelton. “Finally, to be able to knock the door down at the regional, I can’t tell you how proud I am of these guys. What we have been able to accomplish this year, they have been extremely consistent all year long.

This week has been tough with Brown (Jacob Brown) and Bart (Stephen Bartolotta), we know those guys have been with us this weekend, but this has been a very long, emotional week. Hearts were heavy this weekend, but for the guys to come out and play the way they did, I could not be prouder of them. We still have a lot of baseball left.”

Senior outfielder McKinley Erves and eight other seniors received diplomas in commencement ceremonies earlier in the day. Erves capped his day by going 4-for-4 and reaching base all six times he batted. He had a long home run and double included in his four hits, scored four runs, walked twice, and had three RBIs. Sophomore designated hitter Jared Aldridge had a career-high five RBIs; with a pair of two-run singles and reaching on a fielder’s choice to bring in another run.

Centenary (27-19) made the Panthers earn the sweep. The Gents took advantage of sloppy play by the Panthers to take a 5-0 lead. The Panther had three errors in the first four innings, two coming in a four-run fourth inning for the Gents.

The Panthers got untracked with three runs in their half of the fourth. Over their next four at-bats, the Panthers would score 13 unanswered runs. Erves led off the fourth with a walk and later scored on Jack Layrisson’s sacrifice fly. With two outs and runners on second and third, Aldridge dropped a single into right field to bring in two runs to cut the Gents’ lead to 5-3.

In the fifth, the Panthers took the lead for good. Layrisson’s RBI double drove in Erves, who had a leadoff single. Aldridge produced another two-out two-run single to put the Panthers up 6-5. He later scored on an RBI single by Gabriel Pallo to make it 7-5.

LC made it 9-5 in the sixth. The Panthers needed only one hit, taking advantage of three walks in the inning. David Smigelski’s single plated the first run. Rhett Hebert was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to force in the second run.

Rhett Mixon put down a bunt single to open the seventh. Erves followed a long home run to center field, just to the right of the batter’s eye to up the lead to 11-5. Smigelski’s sacrifice fly scored Joe Ruth and Aldridge reached on a fielder’s choice as Layrisson raced home for a 13-5 lead.

Centenary halved the Panthers’ lead to 13-9 with four runs in the eighth. Pallo doubled to left center to start the inning. Erves hit a mammoth RBI double halfway up the batter’s eye to close out his day and the scoring. Michael Menhart retired the Gents in order in the ninth, striking out the last two batters to end the game.

Ethan Kramer (2-2) got the win in relief of starter Ethan Fry. Kramer allowed an unearned run in two innings of work. Preston Ludwick (5-4) took the loss for Centenary. The Gents used nine pitchers in the game.

With their 40th win, the Panthers tied the 2017 team for the most in a season… LC is one of three teams in Division III so far with 40 wins… The eight postseason wins (USA South Bracket #2- 3, USA South Championship Series- 2, NCAA LaGrange Region- 2) are the most by a Panther team… LC became the first USA South baseball team since Christopher Newport in 2012 to advance past the “first round” of the the NCAA Tournament… Joe Ruth had two more hits Saturday and now has 98 for the season… Ruth batted .667 (8-for-12), scored six runs, and had three RBIs in the three games… Erves batted .613 (8-for-13) scored nine runs and had five RBIs… Jack Layrisson had seven RBIs