BENTON — The Benton Panthers got a break in conference action Friday night and pulled away with a win, defeating Pulaski Academy 11-9 at home.
Benton scored five runs in the third inning, four in the fourth and two in the sixth. Pulaski Academy scored a run in the second, two in the fourth, three in the sixth and three in the top of the seventh.
Benton coach Mark Balisterri said his team got off to a slow start against the Bruins, but accounted toward having to play “three emotional games in a row.”
“I knew it would be tough to come out and play today,” Balisterri said. “But it is like I told the guys, ‘If you are ever fortunate to play this game for a living, they have to play 162 games. You just got to keep your focus and today we had a hard time keeping our focus.’”
Five walks and a double in the bottom of the third inning for the Benton Panthers accounted for five runs to give Benton a four-run lead. With the bases loaded after a bunt single and back-to-back walks, Carson Holloway hit a three-run double to clear the bases.
Benton tied the game when Brooks Balisterri scored from second on an error. Ashton Roberts laid down a bunt and beat the throw, but it went into the dirt and made it into the outfield, which allowed Balisterri to score and tie the game.
Pulaski Academy took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when a passed ball allowed Brandon Jones to score from third. Jones singled with one out to start the rally. A walk to Kyle O’Neal and a base hit by Blake Wiggins loaded the bases before Jones scored on the passed ball.
A walk to Skylar Bussell loaded the bases again, but Benton pitcher Garrison Roy got out of the inning by getting the final out on a ground ball.
Pulaski Academy picked up two more runs in the top of the fourth inning. Brandon Jones led off the inning with a double and later scored on a ground ball out to second. Back-to-back errors allowed Wiggins and Bussell to reach and for Wiggins to score to cut the deficit to two runs.
Benton scored four more runs in the fourth inning. Stuart Levy hit a RBI double, and Greg Pryor also had a RBI single. Roberts, Henry, Levy and Holloway scored in the inning to give Benton a 9-3 lead.
Benton’s Garrison Roy pitched four innings, allowing just three runs on five hits with three strikeouts and three walks.
The Bruins rallied in the top of the sixth inning to pick up three more runs. A two-run single by Wallace scored Wiggins and O’Neal. Vassar also had a RBI double to cut the deficit to 9-6.
A single with one out by O’Neal got it started, and Wiggins followed with a single of his own. Two steals would put the runners into scoring position before Wallace would hit his the two-run single to left field.
Vassar’s hit cut the deficit to just three runs headed into the final inning.
Benton picked up two insurance runs in the top of the seventh thanks to a sacrifice fly by Balisterri and a passed ball that allowed Roy to score from third. The two runs gave Benton an 11-6 lead.
Pulaski Academy hit a three-run home run in the top of the seventh for the final runs of the game.
Benton will play El Dorado Monday and, if they win, it will guarantee at least the No. 3 seed for the state tournament. However, Texarkana still has to play Lake Hamilton, Sheridan and El Dorado, and therefore Benton could finish either tied for first or second depending on the outcome of those three games.
“Just so many things can happen,” Balisterri said. “Basically, what we need to do is take care of business and then sit back and let everybody beat each other up. We will see what happens.”
Levy had two hits and Holloway had two hits. Pryor had a hit and Roy and Steward both had hits.