Pitching duel gives Panthers 9th in a row

PINE BLUFF – The Benton Panthers traveled to Pine Bluff expecting to score some runs, but instead got a pitching duel on Friday night against the Zebras in 6A South conference action. The Panthers came away with a 1-0 win over Pine Bluff to improve to 16-4 overall and 7-1 in the 6A South. It was the Panthers ninth consecutive win.

“It was crazy,” Benton Coach Mark Balisterri said.

The only run scored came in the top of the fourth when junior Grayson Chilton singled to start the inning and ended up at third base with one out. Junior Jack James hit a sacrifice fly for the winning run.

Junior left-hander Coulton Lee started for the Panthers and pitched a complete game, scattering seven hits and walking one.

“He didn’t have a lot of command with his off-speed pitches the first six innings,” Balisterri said of Lee. “He was having to throw fastballs and he competed awesome. He went out there and competed every inning. He got himself out of any jams he got in.”

Balisterri said both the infield and outfield made plays behind Lee, who picked two runners off the bases, and referenced the phrase “pitching and defense wins championships.”

“His defense played great,” Balisterri said. “We made plays all over the field all night long and that’s what won the game for us. If you could ever say that defense wins championships, I know it wasn’t a championship game, but that was a definite sign [Friday] night if your defense plays good and your pitcher keeps you in the game, you can win the game 1-0 and that’s exactly what happened. We just did a great job defensively.”

Though Benton’s pitching and defense did an excellent job, the Panthers struggled at the plate. They ended up with seven hits and couldn’t piece anything together.

“The games that we haven’t hit this year, with the exception of four that we lost, we seem to find a way to win,” Balisterri said. “That goes to show you have a good team – when you [don’t] play your best at all facets and still win. That’s big for us.”

Benton wasn’t the only team to benefit from pitching and defense. The Zebras’ defense, especially the outfield, made some good plays.

“Their outfielders made four plays that saved extra base hits and their pitcher did a good job of keeping us off balance,” Balisterri said. “We were happy to come away with the win.”

The Panthers continue conference play when they travel to Lake Hamilton to play the Wolves on Wednesday. First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m.