A game-winning RBI-double in the seventh inning gave Magnolia a 4-3 conference win over Hot Springs Lakeside on the diamond Friday.
“Anytime we play those guys, it’s going to be a battle. However, we went up to their place a month ago and didn’t do anything,” said Panthers’ head coach Bobby Beeson.
Back on March 15, the Panthers (14-4, 9-2 5A/6A District 6) fell 17-2 to the Rams (18-5, 9-2 5A/6A District 6).
“It’s late in the year and we’re playing good baseball at the right time. This is good considering tournaments are coming up,” said the coach.
Sophomore Kevin Zhao got the game-winner after Kyle Carver led off with a single and a courtesy runner stole second base.
“The Rams are fundamentally sound and will attack you on the mound with their pitching. They are going to play great defense, which are also the things we pride ourselves on as well,” said the coach.
In the first inning, Connor Harrington started things with a single. Payton Campbell then hit a shot to the third baseman, who threw Carrington out at second.
Dayton Dickson stepped to the plate and scored Campbell on an RBI-double to make it 1-0.
Magnolia got the lead-off runner on base in six of the seven-inning game.
Zhao singled up the middle to start the second, but was stranded when the Rams recorded the next three outs.
Harrington singled in the third and later scored on an error to make it 2-0.
Starting pitcher Harlen Sanders sat the Rams down in order in the top of the fourth, but the Panthers couldn’t produce a run the bottom half.
In the fifth, the Rams managed three runs off only one hit. Sanders hit a batter and walked another, before being relieved by Harrington.
Hot Springs Lakeside scored on a Magnolia error, sacrifice fly and an RBI single.
In the bottom half, Harrington led off with a stand-up double. Following a pair of strikeouts, the Rams opted to intentionally walk Kyle Carver. Peyton Carter then drew a walk to load the bases.
With two outs, Zhao was hit by a pitch that scored the run which tied the contest at 3-3.
Harrington retired the visitor’s side in order in the sixth. Adam Pieratt had a lead-off single for the Panthers, who were not able to get him home. After hitting a batter to start the seventh, Harrington struck out the next two and forced the third to fly out to center-field.
“Though we have that capability, we are not going to score a bunch of runs. We want to stay in with our defense and pitching and win games late. Here lately, that’s what we’ve been doing,” said Beeson.
The coach said it was huge to get that lead-off runner on base, because that puts more pressure on the opposing pitcher.
Beeson said his Panthers also tried to steal more bases than usually.
“We just could find the timely hits early to get those runs in,” he said.
The coach praised Sanders and Harrington for their efforts on the mound, and also for what Harrington was able to do at the plate.
The two only gave up one hit in the game and struck out a total of nine batters.
“We pride ourselves on our pitchers. I believe we have three starters who can compete with anyone in the state,” said the coach. “Those two did a great job of finding the zone and keeping them off-balance. That’s what we have to do.”
Harrington was 3-for-3 that included two singles and a double. Carver, Pieratt and Zhao had two hits apiece. The Panthers had 10 hits as a team.
The Panthers will return to the diamond on Tuesday when they host the El Dorado Wildcats, beginning at 4:30 p.m.