Benton baseball tosses no-hitter

BENTON – The Benton Panthers baseball team opened the season in fine fashion with two pitchers combining to throw a no-hitter in the Panthers 1-0 victory over the Central Arkansas Mustangs on Tuesday in the Benton Invitational. Senior left-hander Garrison Roy and junior lefty Coulton Lee combined for the no-hitter for Benton.

“Pitching, we did really well,” Panthers Coach Mark Balisterri said. “Garrison got in trouble in the fourth inning – he just lost his focus a little and stopped throwing strikes. Our whole mindset today with our pitchers is I wanted them to go in there and pound the strike zone. If [the Mustangs] hit, they hit; that’s why we have a defense out there for.”

It was in that fourth inning where the game was won for the Panthers (1-0).

Roy struck out opposing pitcher Joey Penny on curve ball to start the top of the fourth, but the ball got away from senior catcher Matthew Krikorian and Penny reached on the wild pitch. Roy lost his control after that walking the next batter. The Mustangs sacrifice bunted the runners to third and second base, and Roy walked Turner McDaniel to load the bases with one out with Benton up 1-0. Lee relieved Roy and needed just two pitches to induce a 4-6-3 double play to get the Panthers out of the inning.

“Coulton came in and did just an unbelievable job,” Balisterri said. “He got stronger as the game went on. He got into a groove and hopefully he will continue that. He will though, I know he will. He was as strong in that last inning as I’ve seen him.”

Roy (1-0, 0.00 ERA) picked up the win throwing three and one-third scoreless innings, striking out three, walking four and hitting a batter. Lee allowed a walk in the top of the fifth, but after a sacrifice bunt to move the runner to second base, Lee struck out seven of the next eight Mustangs, including the last five to end the game for the save.

“A 1-0 ballgame is not always exciting for the fans, but it’s a great game,” Balisterri said. “Right now, we’re struggling at the plate and I don’t think the bats have much to do with that. We’re striking out too much.”

Penny, who struck out six in four innings for the loss, gave up a run in the bottom of the third inning when junior Panthers third baseman Grayson Chilton drew a walk and reached second base on a passed ball to start the inning. Junior shortstop and last-place hitter Jack James hit an RBI double down the right-field line scoring Chilton to give Benton the lead and eventual game-winning RBI.

James was playing shortstop because usual shortstop, senior Brooks Balisterri, has a bicep strain and played first base.

“We moved him over to first because we need his presence on the field,” Balisterri said of his son and senior. “Jack James came in, his first game ever as a Benton Panther, and did a heck of a job. Game-winning RBI and he turned that double play.”

Balisterri, Krikorian and James all went 1 for 3 for all three of Benton’s hits.

The Panthers will play next on Friday in the Benton Invitational.