BIRTHRIGHT— It has been said for years that baseball is a "game of inches" and that was never more evident than Saturday afternoon in the North Hopkins Panthers 5-4 area loss to Harleton.
Senior Kevin Meza hit a long shot to right centerfield that seem destined to clear the fence and tie the game in the bottom of the 10th inning, but Wildcat outfielder Cody Fregia raced to his left reaching over the chain-link fence snaring the ball. And with that play, the Panthers stellar season came to an end.
It was a game of tough pitching, big plays, and timely hitting with both teams slugging it out with only one left standing at the end. Harleton took a 3-0 lead in the third inning after the Panthers had already gotten two outs on a ground out and a Meza strikeout. Wildcat leadoff man Ty Howell walked and scored on a double by Joe Earle. The Wildcats followed with three more hits and two runs to gain the advantage.
The Panthers would not be denied in the bottom of the third when Alfredo Orozco walked and Javier Rojo hit an infield single. Meza followed with a double to score both runners. Silas Whaley hit a shot to left and scored Meza to knot the game up at 3-3.
It stayed that way until the bottom of the next inning when Rheston Sills banged a double followed by a Clay Bearden two-bagger to put the Panthers in the lead at 4-3. It stayed that way until there bottom of the seventh inning when Earle would single in Will Davis who had led off the inning with a double for the Wildcats.
The Panthers recorded defensive gems in the sixth and seventh innings. Jessie Williams made a running, diving catch on a line drive worthy of ESPN highlights and Austin Oldham shut down the Wildcat seventh inning uprising with a diving catch to his right at shortstop to end the threat and the inning.
Neither team could muster any offense in the eighth and ninth innings.
In the Wildcat top of the 10th inning it was Fregia who took the first pitch he saw out of the park for a home run that would make the one run difference in the game.
Meza tossed eight innings for North Hopkins with Whaley pitching the final two frames. Taylor Henson tossed the entire 10 innings for Harleton. The Panthers had eight hits while the Wildcats scattered 11. Meza and Adams each had two hits for the Panthers. Wildcat pitcher Henson and Earle each had three hits to pace the Wildcats on offense.
"I have never had a team as tough-minded as these guys. I hope my younger players learned work ethic and desire to be the best from this group of seniors. These guys are winners," North Hopkins head baseball coach Tim Henderson said. "It was a tough way to end the year, but we we gave it everything we had and never quit."
The Panthers ended the year at 16-7 with a perfect 14-0 District 17-A championship season.
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