Panthers take on Pats in 1st round

Benton senior Wes Guerra camps under a fly ball in a game earlier this season. The Panthers will take on the Marion Patriots in the first round of the 5A State Tournament today at 12:30 p.m. at Everett Field at Panther Stadium. GREG DAVIS/Special to The Saline Courier
Sports Editor

The Benton Panthers will open the 5A State Tournament today vs. the Marion Patriots at Everett Field at Panther Stadium at the Benton Athletic Complex in Benton. The South No. 2 seed Panthers and the East No. 3 seed Patriots will play as scheduled at 12:30 p.m., despite the rainy weather.
Benton (20-5, 11-3 South) defeated Marion (21-8, 11-3 East) in last year’s quarterfinals of the 6A State Tournament on their way to a runner-up finish before falling to Greenwood in the championship game at Baum Stadium. The Panthers’ victory over the Patriots was Benton Coach Mark Balisterri’s 500th at Benton.
“I really don’t know a whole lot about Marion other than they finished third in their conference, right behind Mountain Home and Jonesboro,” Balisterri said. “I know Mountain Home and Jonesboro are very good teams. I suspect they’re (Patriots) going to be one of the better teams we that we’ve played this year. We beat them last year in the quarterfinals and they’re going come here ready to play. We’ve got to take care of business and try to get to the next round.”
Not only does Balisterri think today’s match vs. the Patriots to be tough, but he expects this year’s 5A State Tournament to be one of the most competitive he’s seen in awhile as the Arkansas Activities Association system takes just the top four out of the South, East, Central and West, leaving many good teams out of the state tournament.
“This is going to be one of the toughest state tournaments that we’ve played in in a long time,” Balisterri said. “The pitching is going to be unbelievable. If anyone wants to come watch some good baseball, you need to come out to Everett Field at Panther Stadium and watch some baseball because you’re going see multiple Division I pitchers on the mound, you’re going to see some really good teams and it’s going to be a dog fight to see who gets to go to Baum Stadium.”
Read the rest in Thursday's The Saline Courier.