“You see what happens when you play small ball?” – Assistant Coach Kyle Loscher
Small ball was the key to the Knoxville Panther baseball team’s ability to extend its current winning streak to eight Monday night, as a seven-run rally in the top of the seventh put the black and gold over against Newton, 8-1.
The runs did not exist and the hits were scarce through the first six innings of the game, as Newton’s Ryan Barr had an extraordinary outing on the hill. Barr and the Newton defense forced the Panthers to strand the six runners they were able to get on through the bulk of the game.
With three outs to go and riding a 1-0 lead, Bar gave up a hard-hit Kaleb Streigle single to left. Newton chose to pull Barr at this point, which may have been a mistake.
Next batter up, Mike Hudson laid down a perfect bunt. The pitcher chose to go after the lead runner, but failed. Despite a frozen rope to the first baseman, Hudson had legged out the bunt to beat the throw to get on.
With two on and no outs, Colton Jones stepped up to tap the next bunt. In a rush to not repeat the same mistake, the pitcher went to first but the ball sailed over the first baseman’s head. Streigle dashed all the way from second home to tie the game at 1. Hudson and Jones were advanced to second and third, respectively.
The Panther dugout and fans were fired up. It was all Knoxville from this point forward.
R.J. Roberts doubled to right center to drive Hudson in. Ben Wallace drew a walk before Jacob Zuck slammed an RBI single to right. Rylan Cox then clobbered a triple to right. There was no challenge whatsoever as he cleared the bases. He then scored on a wild pitch to put the Panthers up, 8-1, going into the last frame.
“I was just trying to hustle it out,” Jones said of his bunt. He was just trying to get on base because, “it’s (his) job.”
One of the reasons the Panthers had the opportunity to make the comeback was the outstanding pitching by Wallace and Hudson. Wallace struck out five – including the side in the bottom of the third – and gave up two walks. He was relieved in the bottom of the fourth by Hudson.
The first batter Hudson faced reached on a fielder’s choice. The second Cardinal batter to face Hudson hit a shot that flew over the shortstop’s head to give Newton its only run.
Hudson’s performance on the mound included two strikeouts. Throughout the game, catcher Patrick Crawford did an outstanding job of keeping the ball in front of him and Newton baserunners away from home.
Coming from behind to beat a strong team served as a good lesson for the Panthers as the conference champs head into the postseason, according to Head Coach Matt Miller. Miller told his team after the game that the heat Barr was serving from the mound was an indication of what they will face in the coming days.
“We love tonight, how you battled and earned the win,” Miller told his team. “Tonight had a postseason feel. Battle and be ready, there will be tough pitching.”
Miller told the Tribune after the game that they weren’t expecting to see Barr.
“That kid just impressed us,” Miller said of Barr. “Anything that helps us prepare for the postseason is all we’re looking for. I am happy with how the boys kept fighting.”
The Panthers are set to face Bondurant Tuesday night (July 10) at home, before heading into the postseason. The game is JV/Varsity, beginning at 5:30. Confidence is strong with players like Jones.
“Teams are going to have a tough time beating us,” Jones said. Coach Steve Mott also gave the boys some great advice as the team gets ready for more stiff competition.
“Keep hanging in there,” Mott said. “Don’t give up.”