Panthers lose, but get what they need

LITTLE ROCK – Lack of offense did it again for the Benton Panthers as they fell 4-3 to the Little Rock Central Tigers at Buddy Coleman Field in Little Rock in non-conference action on Monday to end the regular season. The Panthers start the State Tournament on Thursday against Jacksonville having lost 5 of their last 6 games after a 10-game winning streak. Benton was just 3 for 23 at the plate on Monday and the Panthers are hitting just .203 (26 of 128) in their past five losses.

“Obviously, we’re not noted to be a good-hitting team,” Benton Coach Mark Balisterri said. “We battle and we’ll take pitchers deep in the count, but we’ve struggled all year at the plate. We got on that win streak and won five or six of those games without hitting the ball real good. We just played great defense.

“If we can get that defensive edge back, if we would have played good defense today, we would have won.”

Two of the four runs given up by Benton pitchers were unearned.

The Panthers were down 4-0 going into the seventh inning, but mounted a comeback thanks to Central’s missteps. Junior Coulton Lee struck out to start the inning, but reached when the pitch he struck out on was in the dirt and got away from the catcher. Junior Boone Cox pinch ran for Lee and junior third baseman Grayson Chilton was hit by the first pitch to put runners on first and second with no outs.

Junior Blake Nations pinch ran for Chilton and was forced out on junior Justin Vincent’s fielder’s choice to the shortstop to put runners at first and third with one out. Leadoff man and senior Brooks Balisterri walked to load the bases and senior Greg Pryor hit into a fielder’s choice to first base for an RBI to make it 4-1 Tigers.

Pryor went to second on a passed ball and he and Vincent scored on a throwing error by the shortstop allowing senior catcher Matthew Krikorian to reach and make the score 4-3. Junior Carson Holloway walked to put runners at first and second, but senior Ryne Besancon, who had two of the Panthers’ three hits, struck out on a curve ball to end the game.

“It’s just one of those things,” Balisterri said. “He had two good hits early with nobody on, but we have to get hits when we have runners in scoring position. He had a good day at the plate. You can’t be perfect. It’s tough to get three hits in one game.”

Though the Panthers lost, Balisterri said his team got what it needed to for the last regular season game of the year. Benton pitched five pitchers and got some position players in the game to warm up for the State Tournament.

Lee got the start and gave up an unearned run in the first on one hit, Vincent gave up a run in two and two-third innings and struck out three, sophomore Brian Krikorian gave up two runs (one earned) on two hits and three walks, and struck out one in one inning of work, senior Garrison Roy pitched a third of an inning, and Holloway pitched a perfect sixth inning with a strike out.

“We got what we wanted out of the day,” he said. “At this point of the year, a game like today is three times better than practice. You get live pitching, you get to play the ball live off the bat and your pitchers get to throw bullpen against hitters.

“At this point in the season, you always want to win, but the most important thing was getting quality at-bats, quality ground balls, fly balls and live situations. We were pleased with that. We battled back. We could have given up.”

The No. 3 seed Panthers begin their quest for the State Title on Thursday when they face No. 6 seed out of the East Jacksonville Red Devils at Mountain Home High School. First pitch is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.