BENTON – It took extra innings to do it, but the Benton Panthers came away with a 3-2 victory over the defending 5A state champion Arkadelphia Badgers on Friday at Panthers Field. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth inning in a 2-2 game, Benton junior Cameron Spivey’s hard-hit grounder to second base scored courtesy runner Sam Baker when the throw to the catcher was low and the umpire called a trap against the ground for the winning run.
“That was a hard call to make,” Benton Coach Mark Balisterri said of the throwing error. “That was one of the best calls made by an umpire because he was in perfect position. We played a quality team and we fought and battled.”
After sophomore Benton lefty starter Chase Nix set down the Badgers down with a walk and a strikeout in the first, his twin brother, sophomore Colten Nix started the Panthers’ first with a single to centerfield. Junior shortstop Colby Johnson sacrifice bunted Nix to second base and sophomore Brinson Williams’ double to centerfield would plate the game’s first run.
The Badgers would respond in the top of the second with an unearned run to tie it at 1-1, but sophomore designated hitter Ben Brasuell singled to center to begin the bottom of the inning for Benton (5-0). Chase Nix sacrificed Brasuell to second base and reached on an error by the third baseman before Spivey popped a sacrifice bunt attempt up for the first out of the inning. Brasuell was out at third on senior Bailey Mitchell’s fielder’s choice before courtesy runner Alex Graves scored on Colten Nix’ two-out RBI single to left field for a 2-1 Panther lead. Nix finished 2 for 3 with a run, an RBI and a stolen base.
“Colten is doing exactly what we felt like he’d do,” Balisterri said. “He’s a guy we’d really like to have in the three or four hole just because I know he’d be an RBI guy. But he’s so valuable to us at leadoff, we don’t really have another guy with that quality. He makes things happen.”
Arkadelphia would respond with a run in the top of the third to tie it on a sacrifice fly which could have been much worse had right fielder Brian Krikorian not had an excellent diving catch. With a runner at second base, Chase Nix struck out Jake Knight looking at a curve ball to end the inning.
That would be all the scoring until the eighth despite the fact that Nix walked and hit a batter to start the top of the fifth. Badger J.F. Matros couldn’t put down a sacrifice bunt and instead flew out to right field in which Krikorian would double off Ty Costers at first base when Jared Barker made a good play on a high throw. Nix would later load the bases before striking out J.B. Burnham to get out of the inning. Nix would get the no-decision giving up two unearned runs on four hits, four walks and seven strikeouts in five innings. He threw 89 pitches.
“Chase did a good job,” Balisterri said. “He did better than the time before, but he still needs to get command of his off-speed pitches. When he gets command of his off-speed pitches, he’s going to be hard to hit. The other day he threw 68 [pitches] through three innings and had eight Ks. He got better.”
Junior lefty Ryan Rickford earned the win after throwing three scoreless innings on two hits.
“The biggest part of the day was Rickford coming in and doing the job he did,” Balisterri said. “I challenged him. He went out there and pitched three great innings.”
Badger Brandon Matros got the no-decision after giving up two runs (one earned) on four hits, five walks and seven strikeouts in seven innings.
“Their pitcher will be one of the better pitchers we’ll see all year,” Balisterri said.
“To be able to win a game like that and play the way we did defensively, that will tell you we compete. There were a couple of innings we got in trouble on the mound; we competed and fought through it.”
Williams finished 1 for 2 with an RBI and Brasuell was 1 for 3.
Benton’s junior varsity defeated Arkadelphia’s varsity team 7-0 thanks to Jake Croushore throwing a one-hitter threw four innings.
The Panthers will host the Bryant Hornets on Tuesday in the first 7A/6A South Conference game of the year.