Panthers on three-game skid

EL DORADO – The Benton Panthers lost a close one 2-1 to the El Dorado Wildcats in 6A South conference action on Monday night in El Dorado. Other than a forfeit win over J.A. Fair, the Panthers have lost three in a row after ending a 10-game winning streak.

“It was a pitching duel,” Benton Coach Mark Balisterri said. “Both pitchers did a heck of a job; they just scored one more run than we did.

The Wildcats did all their damage in the first inning as a leadoff double and a single put runners at first and third with no outs. El Dorado scored on a passed ball for the first run of the game and with two outs, scored on an RBI single for a 2-0 lead the Wildcats never relinquished.

“Coulton [Lee] gave up three hits in the first inning and they scored two runs,” Balisterri said. “From that point on, they only got two hits the rest of the game. One was an infield bunt and one was a leadoff double and neither one of them hurt us. They never threatened again.”

The Panthers (18-7, 9-4 6A South) scored a run in the top of the third, but had a chance to score more.

“We had one inning that we had a chance to break open the game,” Balisterri said. “We led the inning off with a walk and then didn’t execute a bunt. They threw us out at second. They threw a ball in the dirt and we were going to run on the ball in the dirt – we’re aggressive, that’s the way we want to be. The catcher didn’t have that good of an arm, but for some reason, our runner thought he wouldn’t make it and stopped about half way and got in a run down for the second out.

“We had runners on first and second with two outs with Carson [Holloway] up and we get picked off at second. We had a chance to break the inning open. [El Dorado’s pitcher Blake Clayton] faced five batters and really didn’t do anything to get anybody out. We got ourselves out. That was the only mistakes of the game, some base-running mistakes. Other than that, it was a great baseball game.”

Clayton held the Panthers to three hits, two of them from senior catcher Matthew Krikorian, and walked a man in seven innings, giving up a run. He struck out eight and retired the last 12 Panthers he faced.

“He was on fire,” Balisterri said of Clayton. “He did a great job.Today was the direct result against a really good pitcher. They were one run better than we were. Baseball-wise, we played a good baseball game.”

Lee got the loss, but pitched well. He gave up two runs on six hits and a walk, while striking out four.

Balisterri said the Panthers are the No. 3 seed in the 6A South and will likely open the state tournament against Jacksonville.

“We’ve got a chance to bounce back,” Balisterri said. “We’re in a pretty good position in the bracket. I like our chances. All we have to do is play good for three games and we can make it to the state championship.”