Benton taken out of Tourney by Sheridan

The Benton Panthers’ season came to an end when their rival conference foe Sheridan Yellowjackets upended them 3-2 in the semifinal of the 6A State Tournament on Saturday at Mountain Home High School.

“It was a heck of a game,” Benton Coach Mark Balisterri said. “We just didn’t get the big hit. We had a couple chances to score some runs, but couldn’t get the big hit. We outhit them. They just scored one more than we did and that’s basically all there was to it.”

The Yellowjackets struck first in the bottom of the first when the leadoff man doubled and scored after a ground out to take a 1-0 lead. Sheridan also put one on the board in the third on an RBI double to make it a 2-0 game.

“The second run we gave up, we had the guy thrown out at home,” Balisterri said. “We made a mental mistake and we cut the ball off when we shouldn’t have cut it off. They scored the run there to make it 2-0.

The Panthers picked up a run in the top of the fifth when junior Justin Vincent singled and was sacrifice bunted to second by senior Brooks Balisterri.

Vincent moved to third on senior Greg Pryor’s singled to left field, and scored when senior Matthew Krikorian hit a sacrifice fly to center to make it 2-1.

Junior Jack James got a one-out walk in the top of the sixth and was pinch ran for by junior Boone Cox. Cox went to second on a ground out and scored when the shortstop made an error to make it 2-2.

But just as the Panthers were given a gift run in the top of the sixth, Benton gave it right back in the bottom committing an error that led to the winning run for the Yellowjackets.

“We did the same thing,” Balisterri said. “We walked a guy. They were going to bunt him over and [Carson Holloway] tried to pick him off at first and it was a bad throw to first. We went to pick it up and the guy was going to third. We threw it to third and it got by our third baseman. They scored their last run and really didn’t have to do anything.”

The junior Holloway was solid despite the error. He gave up three runs, (one earned) on five hits and two walks in six innings pitched, while striking out four.

“Holloway pitched a heck of a game,” Balisterri said. “We made a couple of mistakes that cost us a couple of runs, but nothing really major. It was a heck of a game.

Vincent went 2 for 3 with a run, and Pryor, Krikorian, senior Ryne Besancon and junior Coulton Lee went 1 for 3.

“You ask the kids to play their best at the end and we played our best. We just ended up short. I’m very proud of them. We could have gave in the last couple weeks we struggled. We bounced back and made a run at it. The hard thing is to swallow is both teams that are in the championship game now are teams we’ve already beaten. That’s the way it goes.”

South conference member El Dorado defeated Russellville 4-2 to face Sheridan in the title game on Saturday.

The fact there are two 6A South conference teams in championship says a lot for the quality of the conference.

“Our conference is the No. 1 in the state,” Balisterri said.

“Our No.2 team beat the 7A Central’s No. 1 team. That’ll tell you 6A baseball is for real. You have to play your best every inning, every play. I’m very, very proud of these guys.

“They did a great job and have a lot of kids coming back. Our seniors left with a lot to be proud of. We’ll be back again next year.”