NORTH LITTLE ROCK – The Benton Panthers stepped out of the 6A South conference and dropped a 9-6 decision to the North Little Rock Charging Wildcats on Wednesday at Vince DeSalvo Stadium at Burns Park. It was the fourth consecutive loss for the Panthers after winning 10 in a row.
“We got what we needed to get,” Benton Coach Mark Balisterri said. “I wanted the win, but right now, the most important thing is playing games is a lot better than practicing.”
The Panthers have clinched the third seed in the 6A South for the state tournament, so the main objective is to get players on the field and try to get out of their four-game funk, where their three previous games netted only six runs until the six runs scored on Wednesday. Where pitching and defense has led to victories earlier in the year, those two aspects failed Benton as the Panthers walked three runs in and made several errors.
Junior left-hander Justin Vincent started for the Panthers and he gave up three runs (one earned) on five hits and three walks, and struck out one in four innings. With Benton leading 5-2, Vincent gave up a leadoff double in the bottom of the fifth inning and junior Carson Holloway relieved him. An error by the third baseman and a walk loaded the bases and then the errors and more walks led to a six-run inning for the Wildcats and an 8-5 lead.
“Carson came in and he couldn’t throw strikes,” Balisterri said. “We brought Brian Krikorian in and he walked a run in. He struggled to throw strikes too for some reason.
“That’s just uncharacteristic of our pitchers. Most all of our pitchers throw strikes and we couldn’t throw strikes for some reason, and we couldn’t score enough runs to overcome it.”
North Little Rock scored one run in each of the first two innings for an early 2-0 lead, but the Panthers responded in the top of the third with two to tie it. Last-place batter Vincent reached on an infield single and was courtesy ran for by junior Blake Nations. Nations stole second base and went to third on senior shortstop Brooks Balisterri’s single to right field. Balisterri stole second to put runners on second and third with no outs until senior Greg Pryor popped out to the second baseman.
With one out, senior catcher Krikorian singled to left field to score both runners to tie it at 2-2.
After being set down in order in the fourth, Benton led the top of the fifth off with a Balisterri walk and a bloop infield single to left from Pryor. Balisterri went to second on an errant throw from the pitcher on a pick-off attempt and third on Pryor’s single. Krikorian picked up another RBI with a single to right field to put the Panthers up 3-2.
Senior Ryne Besancon singled to left with one out and Pryor scored from third base on junior Jack James’ sacrifice fly to center field to put Benton up 4-2. Taylor Schmidt, who courtesy ran for Krikorian, went to third on the sacrifice fly and scored on a balk from pitcher Colton Gardner to lead 5-2.
The shortstop Balisterri, Krikorian and Besancon each went 2 for 3 with Krikorian adding three RBIs, Besancon one and Balisterri two runs.
Balisterri spoke how important the game was from just a playing standpoint.
“Other than that (errors), we made a couple mistakes, but [the game] was good for us,” Balisterri said. “We played a quality team and we got some hits. That was big for Brooks and Ryne to hit the baseball. They’ve been struggling a little bit and they finally came out and hit the baseball.”
Up next for the Panthers is senior night against Little Rock McClellan Lions on Friday at Panthers Field. First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m.