Panthers Capture Fourth Straight Baseball State Championship

Panthers – 7                       Upstate Eagles – 1

The Panthers won their fourth straight state championship at Bray Park on Saturday night besting the Upstate Eagles by a score of 7-1.

The Panthers batted first as they were the visiting team (the Eagles were the number one overall seed in the tournament). After one quick out, the Panthers went to work. McKinley Proctor singled to right center field. He advanced to second on a passed ball. Micah West was hit by a pitch and Caleb Green singled to left field to score McKinley and advance Micah to second. The Eagle pitcher hit David Hucks to load the bases. Micaiah Hinkle came to the plate with the two outs and the bases still loaded and slapped a single to center field to score Micah and Caleb. David advanced to third on the play and Micaiah was able to get to second on the Eagle throw home. Drew McKay was now at bat and came up big for the Panthers once more. He hit a line drive to left field allowing David and Micaiah to both score. The Eagles finally got out of the first inning on a strikeout but significant damage had been done.

The Eagles got a runner on in the bottom of the first on an error by the Panther starting pitcher, Micah West. Micah, however quickly atoned for his error, picking that runner off at second. Micah spun and threw behind the runner to Avery Blevins at second. Avery gave chase to the Eagle runner and was able to get him in a run down and tag him out. A strikeout ended the Eagles half of the first.

The Panthers were retired in the order in the top of the second and the Eagles came to bat and put together their biggest threat of the game. Ian Moore led off with a single. Reynolds and Graham received back to back walks to load the bases for the Eagles with one out. Micah quickly regained his control and struck out the eighth and ninth Eagle batters to close out the inning and preserve the Panthers five run lead.

The top of the third inning saw the Panthers retired in order for the second straight inning. The Eagles got their lead-off hitter on with a single. Their next batter lined out to McKinley Proctor in center field for the first out of the inning. Another single put Eagle runners at first and second. Ian Moore was next to the plate and he hit a line drive towards shortstop that Caleb Green was able to glove and throw to second doubling off the lead Eagle runner. The Panthers continued to lead 5-0 after three innings.

The Panthers added to their lead in the top of the fourth inning. Drew McKay singled again for his third hit of the day and second in the game. Samuel Leslie laid down a nice bunt advancing Drew to second. The Eagle fielders had all converged on the bunt leaving third base open. Drew, seeing this, took off for third but was tagged out when the Eagle first baseman threw to their shortstop who was racing Drew to the bag. Samuel advanced to second on an error by the Eagle catcher and then to third when Avery Blevins grounded out. McKinley Proctor knocked his second hit of the game to score Samuel and advanced to second when Micah West was able to reach on an infield error. Caleb Green then came up with a clutch two out hit to score McKinley from second. A strikeout ended the Panthers threat but they now led 7-0. The Eagles got a runner to third in the bottom of the fourth, but could not break through for their first run as the inning ended on a fly out to center field.

The Panthers threatened in the top of the fifth, but Micaiah, who had reached on his second hit of the game, was stranded at third. The Eagles scored their lone run in the bottom of the fifth. They got things going after two innocent ground outs to Avery at second. The third batter of the inning was hit by a pitch and stole second base. They scored on a single by Ian Moore who would eventually be stranded at third. The Panthers led 7-1 after five innings.

The Panthers went quietly in the top of the sixth. The Eagles threatened in the bottom of the sixth when their first two runners reached base on a hit and an error. The third batter of the inning popped out to Panther catcher, Connor Shealy, in foul territory. The next Eagle batter, Colson Lancaster, hit a sharp grounder up the middle. Panther second baseman, Avery Blevins, slid over and fielded the ball cleanly, stepped on second base for one out and threw on to first base to complete the double play. This seemed to take a lot of air out of the Eagle sails and they grew more resigned that this game was not going to end in their favor. The Panthers continued to lead 7-1 after six innings.

The Panthers got one runner on in the top of the seventh but never seriously threatened. The Eagles then came up to in the bottom of the seventh inning for their last chance at bat. Their first batter reached on a single. He advanced to second on a wild pitch and then to third when the second batter of the inning grounded out to David Hucks at first base. The Eagle runner then tried to score on a wild pitch but was called out on a close play at home when the runner decided to go in standing up instead of sliding. Micah then recorded his eighth strike out of the game to close it out for the Panthers and their fourth state championship.

Micah pitched a complete game gem for the Panthers. He allowed one earned run while scattering seven hits. He struck out eight and walked or hit four batters. Micah improved his pitching record to 4-1 with the victory.

McKinley Proctor, Caleb Green. Micaiah Hinkle and Drew McKay all had two singles. McKinley scored two runs and had one RBI. Caleb had two RBI’s and scored on run. Micaiah and Drew both had two big RBI’s in the first inning to help the Panthers get out of the gate quickly. David Hucks, Connor Shealy and Samuel Leslie all chipped in one hit.

This is not the end of the Panther’s season as they will continue to practice this week and then leave on Tuesday, May 8th for their annual trip to the National Association of Christian Athletes in Dayton, Tennessee.

Game Notes:   This is the Panthers fourth straight state championship. Year one, they beat the Anderson Cavaliers in a come from behind victory. Year two, they beat the Upstate Eagles, and in, year three they beat the Savannah Hurricanes. The victory improves the Panthers overall record to 12-6. The Panthers had seven assists in the game, led by Avery Blevins with three and Connor Shealy with two. The Panthers turned two double plays in the game. Alex McKay missed this game and the earlier semi-final game due to his injury. He hopes to play in the NACA tournament in Tennessee.