SHERIDAN – Just like their last game against Sheridan, the Benton Panthers got down early against the Yellowjackets on Friday night. But just like the last game, a 6-2 win over the Sheridan, the Panthers again came back and took a 7-2 win on Friday to take sole possession of second place in the 7A/6A South. Both teams were 7-2 in the South going into Friday’s contest as the Panthers improve to 8-2, a game behind the Bryant Hornets.
Sheridan would strike first in the bottom of the first inning when Benton starting pitcher, lefty Chase Nix, walked Tadd Daggett with one out. Daggett went to second on Hunter Strong’s single to left field, but Drew Dyer would misplay it allowing the runners to move to second and third. Evan Thompson scored Daggett on an RBI ground out, an unearned run, as Sheridan led 1-0 after one.
Neither team scored in the second and Benton would put an unearned run of its own across in the third inning. Lead-off man Chase Nix was hit by a pitch by Sheridan starting pitcher Tyler Raney and stole second base. After Colby Johnson struck out, Colten Nix walked and Brinson Williams reached on an error by the shortstop to load the bases. Chase Nix would tie it up on a passed ball.
But despite tying it up, Benton’s bats weren’t very effective the first two times through the lineup against Raney, who struck out six in that time.
“Their pitcher, in the first two innings, only threw five fastballs total,” Benton Coach Mark Balisterri said. “We did not make any adjustments. That’s what was frustrating. We were just swinging at every single curveball he threw. We weren’t trying to pick it up and we just weren’t competing.”
But Sheridan would get that run back in the bottom of the inning. Dyer made a great diving catch to open the inning, but Daggett singled to left field and went to second on Dyer’s second error, but would be thrown out on a stolen base attempt by catcher Brinson Williams at third easily for the second out. Nix walked Strong, who stole second base and scored on Thompson’s bloop single over second for the 2-1 lead. Nix would walk his fourth man of the game and sophomore lefty Ryan Rickford would relieve after Nix threw a wild pitch to start the next man out. With runners on second and third, Rickford froze Reese Lisenbey on a curveball to get out of the inning without any more damage.
“Chase didn’t have a great day on the mound but we kept the game close,” Balisterri said. “We made a couple of good plays in the field and made some routine plays we’ve been struggling with lately.”
It was the fifth inning that Benton capitalized. Johnson began the inning with a single, went to second on Colten Nix’s infield bunt single to the pitcher, and took third base on the throw to first to put runners on the corners. Nix stole second on the first pitch and the catcher’s errant throw allowed Johnson to score to tie it as Nix moved to third, and the second baseman’s error allowed Nix to score to give the Panthers the lead for good. The Panthers would score two unearned runs, one on Cameron Spivey’s RBI single to center, therest of the inning for a 5-2 lead midway through five.
“We put a couple hits together and put some pressure on them,” Balisterri said. “We have guys that can run and we started running on them. The mistakes they made were because what we were doing to them. That’s what we had to do.”
Rickford retired the first seven men he faced and would give up just a walk and a hit in 4.1 innings without a run, striking out two for his third win of the season. Rickford, in 22.1 innings pitched, has yet to give up an earned run on the year,
“We got a lead and Ryan Rickford came in and did a great job,” Balisterri said. “It’s a really good feeling to know we have three guys we can bring out of the bullpen at any time and control the game. Our starters aren’t going to have it all the time. Our pitching has been great all year. They’re not going to be perfect every time they go out.”
The Panthers, 18-3 overall, added two runs in the top of the sixth, one on Williams’ RBI double and one on a wild pitch, to set the final score.
Colten Nix continued his hot hitting going 2 for 2 with two runs, two walks and two stolen bases, and Williams and Spivey each went 2 for 3 with an RBI apiece. Bailey Mitchell went 1 for 3. The Panthers will take on Texarkana in more South action on Wednesday at Panthers Field.