PINE BLUFF – It didn’t look like it would be a blowout early in the game, but the Benton Panthers defeated the Pine Bluff Zebras 14-1 in six innings in 7A/6A South conference action on Tuesday at Taylor Field in Pine Bluff. The win places the Panthers 6-0 in the South and 12-2 overall.
The game was scoreless for the first two innings, though the Panthers had their chances. Benton had runners at second and third with just one out in the top of the first inning, but senior designated hitter Coulton Lee struck out looking and sophomore Colby Johnson popped out to short coming up empty in the first.
Senior Taylor Schmidt had a one-out single in the second and courtesy runner Drew Dyer stole second base, but another pop out and strikeout didn’t allow Benton to put up any runs in inning two. Senior Jack James singled to start the top of the third and moved to second on a fielding error by the left fielder, but James was picked off at second base for the first out.
“I don’t think we got off the bus really ready to play,” Balisterri said. “I was pretty frustrated after the first couple of innings. We just didn’t have any life in us. Everybody kind of woke up the second time [through the lineup] around. Once we woke up, we pounded the ball.”
But the Panthers wouldn’t let the pick off hold them down in the third. Four consecutive hits by the Panthers, including RBI doubles by starting pitcher Carson Holloway and Lee, led to a 2-0 lead. Lee would score on an error by the catcher before Grayson Chilton walked to load the bases for senior Trey Bishop, who doubled in two runs for the 5-0 lead after three.
Meanwhile, Holloway, a lefty, was setting up the Zebras and knocking them down. The only baserunners Holloway allowed in the game were on a walk and an error by the third baseman as he finished throwing four scoreless and no-hit innings while striking out six. Senior left-hander Taylor Patterson pitched the final two innings giving up a run on one hit and three walks, with three strikeouts.
“Carson did a good job pitching and we didn’t have to do a whole lot defensively,” Balisterri said. “Hitting the ball is what we’ve been struggling with. They threw pitchers who threw strikes. They didn’t have a whole lot to go with it. We’ve had that this year before where they threw strikes and we didn’t hit it.”
Consecutive one-out doubles by senior Justin Vincent and Holloway scored a run before Lee pulled a two-run homerun over the right-field wall for an 8-0 Panther lead after four innings. Benton would add six more in the top of the sixth.
The Panthers pounded out a season-high 16 hits with Bishop going 3 for 4 with three RBI and a run. Bishop is the starting first baseman for the Panthers, but usually doesn’t hit with a designated hitter used in his place. A concussion to freshman Colton Nix allowed Bishop to hit for himself on Tuesday.
“Trey Bishop stepped up and had three hits,” Balisterri said. “He had an opportunity to swing it and he did a great job. He’s capable of being a really good hitter, he’s just got to do it. We just hit the ball great throughout the lineup.”
Along with his impressive pitching day, Holloway also went 3 for 4 with two runs and two RBI, and Vincent went 3 for 5 with two runs and two RBI. Lee went 2 for 3 with three RBI, Schmidt went 2 for 4 with one RBI and James went 2 for 4.
The Panthers will take on the Sylvan Hills Bears in North Little Rock on Thursday before hosting rival Bryant on Friday.
“They’re the best team in our conference besides us,” Balisterri said .”It’s gong to be a battle. Don’t know about Coulton right now. He’s been dealing with a muscle in his back. If he’s 100 percent, we’ll pitch him. If not, we won’t. The rest of the season is more important than one game.”