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Struggling on offense but still leading Earlville-Leland in the bottom of the fourth inning in Wednesday’s Class 1A Putnam County Regional semifinal, the top-seeded Panthers got a hit.
And then another.
When PC finally stopped hitting in the inning, the top-seeded Panthers had pounded out seven hits and scored eight runs to blow open a 10-1 victory over the Red Raiders.
“Anybody who watches baseball and really pays attention knows hitting is contagious,” Garcia said. “You’re not going to be able to score many runs if you get one hit an inning, but if you can string two or three together in a row then you can put pressure on them and good things are going to happen.” That’s exactly what the Panthers did on Wednesday.
In all, the first seven PC hitters reached base in the fourth - five by base hits - against E-L starter Brock Kreiter as the Panthers turned a 2-1 lead into a 10-1 advantage entering the fifth inning.
“We realized that he was going to be throwing a lot of strikes, so we pretty much just hit it,” PC senior third baseman Justin Pettit said. “I think hitting is very contagious. Once one guy goes, everybody usually follows, especially if the lead-off guy gets a hit.”
The big victory lifted PC (19-11) into Saturday’s 2 p.m. regional title game where it faces the winner of Thursday’s semifinal between No. 2-seeded Newark and No. 3-seeded Serena.
It will be the eighth straight regional title game appearance for PC.
“To be back in the title game means a lot, especially after last year (when PC lost in the regional championship to Marquette),” Pettit said. “We really want to make it farther into the tournament.”
Up 2-1 in the bottom of the fourth, Pettit started the inning with a single to right.
Two batters later, PC left fielder Evan Kreiser singled to left to score Pettit and give the Panthers a 3-1 lead.
A two-run double by starting pitcher Cody Ballerini made it 5-1. Ballerini later stole third and scored on a throwing error by the E-L catcher to make it 6-1. Two batters later, an RBI double to right-centerfield by designated hitter Austin Pletsch scored second baseman Xavier Warren to increase the lead to 7-1. Later in the inning, Pettit hit a two-run double to push the lead to 9-1, and Kreiser’s second RBI single of the inning made it 10-1.
In the inning, PC scored eight earned runs on seven hits and sent 14 batters to the plate.
“That’s kind of been the story of our season,” E-L coach Jake Collins said. “Most of our losses have come from one or two bad innings. … They were really good at the plate, hit the gaps on us and were working our outfielders really well.” While PC was unable to take the 10-run game-ending lead, its pitching gave the Panthers little to worry about.
Ballerini allowed three hits and struck out eight in five scoreless innings, while Harold Fay threw two scoreless innings of relief.
Pettit finished with a team-high three hits for PC to go with two runs scored and two RBI, while Pletsch had two hits and Kreiser two hits and two RBI. Down 2-0 in the top of the fourth, E-L scored its lone run on Kreiter’s solo home run to right field.
Kreiter finished with two hits and the Red Raiders (5-15) had just four hits in the game.
“We were joking the other day in (the regional quarterfinal win) against LaMoille that he only has warning-track power because he hit three triples,” Collins joked about Kreiter. “He got a good piece of that one. I think it barely went over the fence, but it was really nice and the first home run he’s ever hit. We’re real proud of him.”
Jared Bell be reached at 220-6938, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.
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