Doubleheader dumps Decatur in gut-wrenching game two, Panthers advance to final four


Kristen Sherman

Senior Jake Arnold watches the ball as he runs to first. Arnold hit a double, triple, and a sacrifice RBI to help his cause in game one as he got the win, 9-1 against Decatur.

Morgan Evans, Sports Editor

Since advancing to the elite eight, the Panthers have narrowed down to some tough competition. After two-game sweeps of Bainbridge, Kell, and now Decatur, the No. 1 seed from region 6-AAAAA, the Panthers will go on to play in the final four for the first time in four years.

My pitching felt about as good as it has all year.

— senior Jake Arnold

Senior Jake Arnold started game one for the Panthers, throwing six innings and giving up only one walk and one unearned run, while striking out six of his 22 batters faced. Arnold’s stellar pitching led the Panthers to a 9-1 victory in game one.

“My pitching felt about as good as it has all year,” Arnold said. “I was able to get ahead in the count early and execute my pitches.”

Arnold dominated the first nine batters in the top of the first, second, and third inning. Senior Ryan Lewis also pitched a one-two-three bottom of the first for the Bulldogs, but his success ended quickly in the bottom of the second.

Arnold helped his cause in the bottom of the second with a two out double. Junior Jake Blinstrub replaced Arnold as a courtesy runner and scored when the next batter, junior Hayes Heinecke, ripped an RBI single. Junior Cole Gilley drew a walk, and both Heinecke and Gilley advanced after a Bulldog passed ball. Senior Kyle Evert drove home Heinecke and Gilley with a two-RBI double. Senior Drew Pepper was hit by a pitch and advanced to third on sophomore Brian Port’s RBI double, which scored Evert. Senior Will Evans hit a two-RBI double to score Pepper and Port. The Panthers led the Bulldogs 6-0 after two.

The Panthers increased their lead by two in the bottom of the third after Arnold hit a triple and was once again replaced with Blinstrub. Heinecke hit his second RBI of the game after he singled home Blinstrub yet again. Heinecke advanced to second after another Bulldog passed ball, and scored on a throwing error after Gilley hit an infield single and ran to second on the error. After the bottom of the third, the Bulldogs trailed the Panthers 8-0.

Kristen Sherman
Senior Drew Pepper, junior Mitchell Sutton, and sophomore Brian Port celebrate at home after Pepper and Port scored from senior Will Evans’ two-RBI double. The Panthers scored six runs in the bottom of the sixth and went on to win 9-1 in game one against the Decatur Bulldogs.

Arnold gave up his first single in the top of the fourth, but did no damage until the top of the fifth when the leadoff batter, Lewis, reached first after striking out, and eventually scored on an error by junior Mitchell Sutton.

The Panthers scored their final run in the bottom of the fifth when Courtney reached first on an error, advanced to second on a passed ball, and scored after Gilley’s RBI single. Both the Panthers and the Bulldogs held the other team in the sixth and seventh. Senior Jordan Hall entered the seventh to close the game with a one-two-three inning. The Panthers defeated the Bulldogs 9-1 in game one.

“The first game was great,” head coach Brent Moseley said. “[Arnold] was just dominate. That was as good as he’s been all year.”

Game two started with the Panthers batting in the top of the first, but they were unable to score, and only reached base on Evans’ double. Senior Chance Amell started on the mound for the Panthers and immediately found himself in trouble in the bottom of the first.

Amell hit senior Alex Glier, his first batter faced, and gave up a single to senior Keenan Howard. The next batter, junior Jarrett Ford, hit a two-RBI triple to score Glier and Howard. Ford eventually scored on a Panther error. Amell walked junior Tim Conway, and gave up an RBI double to score Conway.

Amell was taken out after pitching a third of an inning and giving up four runs. Senior Jack Moore took the mound and got the Panthers out of their first inning jam. Moore pitched a stellar second inning, striking out the first two batters and getting Glier to pop out to Port.

“I felt great in game two,” Moore said. “I thought I was definitely throwing harder than I have all year.”

The Panthers’ bats started working in the top of the third when leadoff batter Evans was hit by a pitch. Courtney reached second on a fielder’s choice error. Evans scored on an error by Ford and Courtney advanced to second. Heinecke hit a sacrifice fly to score Courtney, and the Panthers cut the Bulldogs’ lead in half, 4-2.

The Bulldogs managed to score one run in the bottom of the third when Ford tripled and scored on a throwing error by Arnold. The Bulldogs increased their lead 5-2. The Panthers scored another run in the top of the fourth when Evans doubled, and the next batter, Arnold, doubled him home, making the score 5-3.

Moore struck out the side in the bottom of the fourth and the Panthers thanked him with run support in the top of the fifth. Heinecke hit a leadoff double and advanced to third on junior Charlie Mizzell’s single. Mizzell was replaced with freshman courtesy runner Hunter Lawson. Heinecke scored on Evert’s sacrifice fly. Blinstrub walked and scored along with Lawson after Port’s two-RBI double. The Panthers inched over the Bulldogs 6-5 in the top of the fifth.

Moore struck out two more batters in the bottom of the fifth and held the Bulldogs at five. The Panthers increased their lead to 10-5 in the top of the sixth after Courtney drew a leadoff walk. Heinecke reached first on a dropped third strike, and Mizzell was intentionally walked to load the bases. Evert drew another walk to score Courtney after there was no room left on the bases. After a Bulldog pitching change, Blinstrub hit a sacrifice ground out to score Lawson, Heinecke’s pinch runner. Port drove home Mizzell and Blinstrub after his two-RBI single, and the Panthers ended the inning with a 10-5 lead.

It was a tie game going into the seventh. I 100-percent knew we were going to come back.

— senior Will Collins

The bottom of the sixth was an unfortunate inning for the Panthers. Moore hit the first two batters of the inning, which brought Evans to the mound. Evans walked his first batter to load the bases, then gave up an RBI single. Senior Darius Lucas grounded into a fielder’s choice, which saved a run for the Panthers, but kept the bases loaded. Evans struck out the next batter, but gave up two more consecutive walks to score two more runs, making the score 10-8 Panthers. Evans was replaced with senior Will Collins who immediately gave up a two-out two-RBI single to tie the game. Collins recovered to strike out the next batter and end the inning, and the Bulldogs and Panthers were tied at 10.

“I just wanted to get him out,” Collins said. “I was thrilled to be in the game and pumped when we got that last guy out. It was a tie game going into the seventh. I 100-percent knew we were going to come back.”

The Panthers went into the top of the seventh biting their nails. Lawson led off the inning and drew a walk. The next batter, Gilley, also walked. Mizzell hit a single to load the bases and gave the Panthers a chance to take the lead. Evert grounded into a fielder’s choice, which scored Lawson, and all hands were safe. Blinstrub drew a walk to score Gilley. Port grounded into another fielder’s choice to score Mizzell’s pinch runner, junior Michael Norton. Evans hit an RBI single to score Evert and make the score 14-10. Arnold hit a bases clearing triple to score Blinstrub, Port, and Evans.

“We all knew that we had to be up and cheer each other on,” Gilley said. “I was excited because I knew we had a great chance to win in the seventh.”

The Panthers’ momentum didn’t stop there. Courtney doubled to score Arnold and increase the Panthers’ lead 18-10. Heinecke was hit by a pitch, and immediately after, Gilley singled to load the bases, yet again. Mizzell hit an RBI single to score Courtney and keep the bases loaded. Evert grounded into a fielder’s choice and Heinecke was called out at home, giving the Panthers their first out of the inning after nine runs. Blinstrub drew his second walk of the inning and scored Gilley again. Port hit a sac fly to score Mizzell and Evans singled to score Evert. Arnold grounded into a fielder’s choice to get the third out of the inning and the Panthers led the Bulldogs 22-10 after a 12-run seventh.

“There were a lot of guys that contributed in the second game,” Moseley said. “[Moore] got us to the sixth inning without letting them getting really anymore [runs]. [Port] had a lot of big hits, and so did [Arnold].”

Junior Nathan Price stepped in for Collins to hold the Bulldogs in the bottom of the seventh. Lewis grounded out and Price struck out the last two batters of the game. The Panthers defeated the Decatur Bulldogs 22-10 in a gut-wrenching game two.

Starr’s Mill won the coin toss for the second week in a row and will play Loganville, the No. 1 seed from region 8-AAAAA. This is the second time the Panthers will face Loganville, after defeating them 4-0 on March 3. The doubleheader is scheduled on Wednesday at home, with first pitch at 4:30 p.m. Arnold will likely take the mound for game one.