BENTON -- A year after playing every game with an extremely heavy heart, the Benton Lady Panthers revisited that emotion in full with the first game of the second annual Drew Melton: Forever Young Tournament on Friday.
With Wynne as the first opponent up, Benton took care of business, winning 6-0 after a second straight dominating performance from pitcher Stevi Muilenburg. The senior allowed just one hit over five innings, striking out five and walking one.
“Throwing a one-hitter at any time is a pretty impressive showing,” Head Coach Heidi Cox said. “We are very proud of her. She is doing a great job and seems relaxed. We played good defense, too.”
Muilenburg used eight groundball outs in the win, most going to the right side with Herbie Herbner and Rachel McCallister making putout after putout all game long.
“Herbie and Rachel made a good team over there and worked hard on defense for her (Stevi),” Cox added.
Herbie hit the dirt in the fourth inning after jamming her ankle on the first base bag covering on a bunt by Wynne. Cox said that she is fine, but did pull her for the final inning on defense. Herbner led Benton going 3 for 3 with three runs, two RBI and three stolen bases in the game.
“That is why (Herbner is in the leadoff) spot right now,” Cox said. “She is making things happen. That is what we need from her. If she continues to keep doing that then she will continue to be in that spot.”
All of Herbner’s hits were line shots up the middle, splitting the Wynne defense.
Muilenburg ended the first inning with back-to-back strikeouts. Benton’s offense, on the other hand, started with a single and swiped bag by Herbner, a single and steal from Muilenburg and a walk by Taylor Ogelsby. Herbner scored the game’s first run on throw down to second to make it 1-0 Benton.
The Lady Panthers struck out in three straight appearances to end their half of the inning.
Muilenburg gave up her lone hit of the day in the second on a hard double with two out before striking out the next hitter to end the frame.
Benton broke the game open with a three-run showing in the second, using three hits, three walks and a Muilenburg suicide squeeze to take the 4-0 advantage. Herbner drove in her first run of the game scoring McCallister on a one-out single and later scored on the bunt. Ashton Currey drove in her only RBI with a single moments later.
With Muilenburg sitting down Wynne hitters left and right, Benton continued to back her up with runs, adding two in the third. After batting around in the second, the Lady Panthers tacked on two more runs with two hits and an error.
Delaney Bono reached on a single, stole second and later scored on a Herbner RBI while the speedy Herbner swiped second and third before scoring on an error. The Lady Panthers went in order for the only time in the game in the fourth, but damage was already done as they rolled to victory.
“They played very well,” Cox said. “We got another outstanding performance from Stevi and the kids went out there and hit the ball. We played some good defense and it is a good way to start off the tournament.
Bono finished 1 for 1 with two runs scored and a steal in the win.
Benton drew Rogers in Game 2 on Saturday. A full recap of the tournament will be in Monday’s issue of The Saline Courier.