Panthers win 10th straight

PEARCY – The Benton Panthers made it 10 wins in a row when they traveled to Lake Hamilton and took down the Wolves 9-6 in 6A South conference play on Wednesday. The Panthers outhit the Wolves 14-8.

“We had a good win,” Benton Coach Mark Balisterri said. “It was the first time we beat Lake Hamilton in six games. Basically it was the first time in three years that we beat them. It was a big win for us.”

Senior Panthers catcher Matthew Krikorian led the game off being hit by a pitch and was pinch ran for by junior Boone Cox. After a strike out, senior shortstop Brooks Balisterri doubled to the left-center field gap on a 1-2 count to score Cox from first for a 1-0 Benton lead. Cleanup hitter Carson Holloway scored Balisterri with a single to left field to put the Panthers up 2-0.

In the bottom half of the inning, Benton left-handed starting pitcher Coulton Lee struck the first two men out before giving up a single to Levi Runyan and Carter Greathouse to put runners on first and second. After an error by the shortstop to load the bases, Lee walked in a run on five pitches to put Lake Hamilton on the board with the Panthers leading 2-1. Lee struck out the next batter to strike out the side and get out of the inning.

“Coulton had a rough first inning; he threw 38 pitches in the first inning,” Balisterri said. “We kind of changed our game plan up a little bit. We knew he wouldn’t throw but about four innings with that high of a pitch count in the first inning.

“He still struggled with his off-speed pitches and that’s what we have to work on between now and next Wednesday against Sheridan. He has to get his command of his off-speed pitches. It’s harder and harder for him to throw against good-hitting teams because they can hit a fastball.
“Luckily Coulton is good enough he can place the ball where he wants to and keep guys off balance without his off-speed stuff. He did a heck of a job.”

After a scoreless second inning, senior Greg Pryor doubled down the right-centerfield line and went to third when Balisterri grounded it to shortstop for an error. Senior Ryne Besancon hit Pryor in with a single to left to put Benton (17-4, 8-1 6A South) on top 3-1 and junior second baseman Jack James followed with a single to right field to score Balisterri from second to give the Panthers a three-run lead after three.

Each team scored a run in the fourth for a 5-2 Benton lead before the Panthers exploded for four runs in the top of the fifth to make it 9-2. Besancon, who reached on a single, scored on a bases-loaded walk to senior third baseman Grayson Chilton, and James, who reached on a fielder’s choice, scored on junior Justin Vincent’s single to left field to make it 7-2. Chilton and pinch runner Taylor Schmidt both scored on Krikorian’s single to right field.

Lake Hamilton would score three in the bottom of the fifth on a Greathouse three-run shot and one in the bottom of the seventh on a bases-loaded hit by pitch, but the Panthers held on.

Lee got the win giving up five runs (three earned) on six hits and two walks, while striking out six in 99 pitches. Holloway, a lefty as well, relieved for Lee after the three-run home run and shut down the Wolves in three innings. Holloway gave up a run on two hits and a walk, and struck out six to combine with Lee for 12 strike outs.

“Carson came in and pitched the fifth, sixth and seventh and did just an outstanding job,” Balisterri said.

Krikorian went 2 for 3 with two RBIs and Pryor went 2 for 5 with a run and RBI. Besancon, James and Vincent each went 2 for 4 with a run and RBI, Lee went 2 for 3 and Balisterri scored two runs while going 1 for 4 with an RBI.

“I was very pleased with the game,” Balisterri said. “We did our job on defense and competed on the mound; and we hit the baseball. We hit throughout the lineup and that’s really good. If we can hit like that throughout the lineup, we’re going to be tough to beat. It was a great day.” For the Wolves, Greathouse went 2 for 3 with a home run.

The Panthers take on the Texarkana Razorbacks next in conference action on Friday in Benton. First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m.