The visiting Bears rolled into town and put up two runs early Friday night, but the Panthers went on to score 12 unanswered to secure their thirteenth win of the season. Fresh off of spring break, Newberry took little time returning to the dominant form it has been in all year.
“We’re swinging the bats right now,” said Panthers head coach Mike Spina. “We want to do damage, and we want to be aggressive.” Landon Gruenwald got the nod on the bump for the home team and took an inning to settle in.
Nick Chesser started the game with a single, and Carson St. Laurent drew a walk to put two men on. Starting pitcher for Dixie County, Kolton Hunt, delivered over the plate to bring Chesser home with a single. The second run came as the Panthers tried to catch Hunt stealing second, but the throw sailed high and St. Laurent jogged home.
Already in a two-run hole, Justen Crews led off the bottom of the first with a sharply hit single. He safely stole second, and as he then attempted to steal third, the throw went wide of the bag and he easily crossed the plate to cut the deficit in half. The Panthers put two more men in scoring position, but Hunt tossed two strikeouts to limit the damage for the Bears.
The top of the second was a 1-2-3 inning for a more comfortable Gruenwald, who threw two strikeouts of his own. Jonathan Moore, the leadoff batter in the home half, was hit by a pitch to reach base, and Jayden Holcomb drove a double to put runners on second and third. A pitch snuck past the catcher, and Moore raced home to tie the game at two apiece.
Dixie County had another quiet inning in the third with only Luke Thomas hitting a single to get on base, while Newberry kept its foot on the gas. Luke Ridley and Kaleb Compton delivered consecutive singles, and Ridley moved to third on a deep fly ball.
Josiah Haglund replaced Compton on base and promptly stole second. To load the bases, Lucas Kuenstle reached on a dropped third strike that the catcher lost sight of. With the bases loaded and two outs, Moore drew a walk to bring Ridley home and give the Panthers their first lead of the night.
Caden Massey was then hit by a pitch, which brought Haglund in to make it 4-2.In the fourth, Hunt drew a walk and advanced all the way to third but was left stranded. Facing Chesser on the mound to start the fourth, the Panthers had their biggest inning of the night, putting up seven runs. Crews led off on a high note with a deep shot to left-field.
Ma’kai Johnson was hit by a pitch and then stole second, so he was in scoring position when Ridley dropped an RBI-double into left center. Ridley moved to third on a loose ball. Still with no outs, Compton drew a walk and was replaced again by Haglund, who notched another successful steal, helped by an errant throw.
That error allowed Ridley to go home, where the umpire said the catcher blocked the plate. As retribution, Haglund was summoned home and Newberry awarded an easy run, making it an 8-2 ball-game.
While the Bears pieced together two outs, the Panthers loaded the bases and Chesser was replaced by Kash Koschatzky. Crews, up for the second time in the inning, welcomed him with a bases clearing triple to extend the lead to 11-2.
Koschatzky opened the fifth by drawing a walk and advancing on a wild pitch. He saw his opportunity to race home when what would have been a routine grounder rolled through the shortstop’s legs into the outfield. In a great defensive recovery, center-fielder Crews scooped up the loose ball and threw a rocket home to Compton who tagged Koschatzky out at the plate.T
he bottom of the fifth turned out to be the only inning that Newberry didn’t score in. And with time running out, Dixie County wasn’t able to get anything going in the sixth. Needing only one run in the bottom of the sixth to bring the run rule into effect, Mason Tomchakdrew a walk and made it all the way to third on an error.
Haglund, now in the lineup as a hitter and notjust a pinch runner, delivered a deep sacrifice fly to center, which Tomchak tagged up on and jogged home to end the game 12-2. Crews was a standout on both sides of the ball, finishing the night only a double short of the cycle.
His home run, triple and single delivered four RBIs, and he added two steals and two runs. After the game, he was impressed with the entire team’s performance, saying “We swung the bat pretty good as a team.” Another strong performance came from Ridley, who had a double, single, walk, RBI, steal and two runs.
He sees the squad potentially going far this season.
“If we work as a team, we’ve got a pretty good shot at winning a state championship.”
The Bears dropped to 5-6 with the loss and travel to Williston on Monday to try and claw back to .500. The Panthers moved to 13-1, and in the 14 games played, theyhave scored 152 runs while allowing only 15.
“That’s what’s dangerous about this lineup –one through nine, they can hit,” said Spina. “I’m proud of them.”