Walking off: Panthers get game-winning double in 8th for win

BENTON – Leading by four runs going into the top of the sixth only to have the game tied on one swing, the Benton Panthers came away with a 5-4 extra-inning win in the bottom of the eighth over the El Dorado Wildcats in an important 6A South conference game on Thursday at Panther Field.

Benton senior Ryne Besancon, who pinch hit and struck out for starting pitcher Coulton Lee two innings before, hit a game-winning RBI double in the bottom of the eighth inning.

“It was just a great ballgame; a great way to win the game,” Benton Coach Mark Balisterri said.

With the game tied 4-4 after a grand slam from senior Wildcats’ right fielder Ethan Russell in the top of the sixth, senior Panther Jordan Britton struck out to start the bottom of the eighth for the first out. Junior second baseman Jack James laced a single into right field the next at bat and was pinch ran for by junior Boone Cox. Besancon came up and took El Dorado left-handed starting pitcher Blake Clayton’s third pitch into the left-center field gap to score Cox from first for the game-winner.

“Somebody tonight stepped it up,” Balisterri said. “Ryne stepped up and got the big hit for us there at the end. He hadn’t got to play a lot here lately. He just waited his turn and got the opportunity and took advantage of the opportunity. He came up with the biggest hit of the year so far. I’m proud of Ryne. I’m very, very, very happy with the win. It was an awesome win.”

The Panthers (13-4, 5-1 6A South) had their chances to score in the bottom of the first when senior Matthew Krikorian rapped a single into left field to start the bottom of the inning. Senior Greg Pryor sacrificed the runner to second base and senior Brooks Balisterri singled to right field to put runners at first and third with one out.

Junior Carson Holloway grounded out to the pitcher on a half swing and Britton grounded out to the shortstop to end the Panthers’ opportunity.
Benton was set down in order in the bottom of the second before putting a run on the board in the bottom of the third inning. Junior left fielder and last-place batter Justin Vincent singled to left to start the inning and Krikorian attempted a sacrifice bunt which turned into a hit when it was placed perfectly down the first-base line to put runners at first and second with no outs. Pryor attempted to sacrifice the runners up a base, but couldn’t get the bunt down and ended up fouling out to the first baseman. Balisterri hit a hot shot to the shortstop the next at bat which would have been a double play if the second baseman’s throw didn’t pull the first baseman off the bag. The throw pulled him off just enough for Vincent to come around to score on the error for a 1-0 Panthers’ lead.

Clayton set the Panthers down in order in the fourth before Benton got to him with the help of bad defense in the fifth. Junior Grayson Chilton singled to center to open the inning and Vincent attempted to bunt pinch runner Blake Nations to second, but reached on an infield single when the fielders had a miscommunication on who was covering first. Krikorian attempted to get the runners over on a sacrifice, but couldn’t get the bunt down and ended up reaching on an error by the first baseman to load the bases with no outs.

Nations scored to make it a 2-0 game when the second baseman couldn’t handle Pryor’s grounder. With the bases still loaded, Balisterri hit a sacrifice fly to center field to make it 3-0. Holloway hit the wall in right field for a double to score the last run of the inning to put Benton up 4-0 after five.

Lee, also a left-hander, gave up just two hits and hit a batter through five innings for the Panthers including striking out the side in the third on three different pitches to end a string of four strike outs in a row. Cruising until the top of the sixth, Lee may have lost his focus after the long bottom of the fifth inning as he gave up a single to center to start the sixth and got a fly out to left field before walking his counterpart Clayton for his first bases on balls of the game. Lee struck out catcher Dillon Smith swinging at an outside curve ball before walking Clay Hendricks to load the bases. Russell, who nailed a double to left in the second inning, took Lee’s 0-1 offering over the left-center field fence for a grand slam and tie game, 4-4.

“The kid made a good swing on a pitch that was mediocre,” Balisterri said. “It wasn’t a bad pitch. It wasn’t exactly where [Lee] probably wanted it. The wind was blowing out a little bit and it got in the air. It was supposed to be an outside pitch and it was away. My catcher even said it was away, it just wasn’t away away, and the guy got an opportunity to turn on it.

“That’s baseball and unfortunately they had the bases loaded and it tied the game for them. We could have folded right then, but we didn’t and hung in there.”

Lee picked up the no-decision giving up four runs, six hits and two walks in six innings while striking out eight with 93 pitches. Holloway relieved Lee in the seventh and picked up the win giving up a hit and an intentional walk to Russell in two scoreless innings.

“Coulton did a good job and Carson came in and did a great job,” Balisterri said. “He battled out there and that’s what Carson does, he competes.”

Clayton got the loss for the Wildcats (9-3, 3-2) giving up five runs (two earned) on 10 hits. He struck out six and walked none in 102 pitches thrown.

“That kid is a heck of a pitcher,” Balisterri said of Clayton. “We had two really good lefties, probably the two best lefties in the state throwing.[Clayton is] tough, mentally tough too. For a guy able to go out there and throw eight innings, he’s got it on the mound, plus he’s tough. He’s not going to walk anybody.”

Krikorian went 2 for 4, Vincent went 2 for 3 with two runs scored, Pryor and Balisterri each went 1 for 3 with Balisterri adding and RBI, Holloway had an RBI while going 1 for 4, and Besancon went 1 for 2 with the game-winning RBI.

For El Dorado, Smith went 2 for 4 and Russell went 2 for 3 with a run and four RBIs with his grand slam.

“That’s what it’s going to be like every time we play these teams in our conference because it’s going to be a dog fight,” Balisterri said. “I’m very pleased. It gives us the opportunity to take command in the conference. I was very pleased with our whole performance.

The Panthers go out of conference to host the Little Rock Catholic Rockets on Monday before facing the McClellan Lions in 6A South conference action on Tuesday in Little Rock. Both games are scheduled for 5 p.m.