Panthers edge Saltillo in extra innings to capture district crown

By JIMMY ROGERS | News-Telegram Correspondent

April 21, 2007 - BIRTHRIGHT - Two Saltillo Lion errors in the bottom of the seventh allowed the North Hopkins Panthers two runs to tie Friday's District 17-A championship game at five runs each. North Hopkins took advantage of another Lion error in the bottom of the eighth, scoring the winning run and securing the first place honors for the playoffs.

The Panthers won 6-5 before a Senior Night home crowd.

Saltillo's Travis Thompson's solo home run leading off the second inning put the Lions on the board first. Saltillo was in the driver's seat for much of the game picking up a run in the second, third and fourth innings and scoring two in the fifth.

�It was a tough loss,� Saltillo T. G. Sandifer stated after the game. Sandifer, in his first year as Lion baseball head coach graciously accepted his second place finish with a 7-2 record and one more game left to play.

�We're in the playoffs, and that's good," he said. �We started out pretty good but toward the end we started pressing, got a little scared. I felt a difference in the players in the way they played. It showed in our defense. I give a lot of credit to North Hopkins, but you know I think if we had not made the errors, we would have won the ballgame.�

North Hopkins' scoring didn't begin until the fifth inning when lead off batter Joe Smiddy was hit by a Chase Carr pitch and the next two batters, A. D. Ramirez and Jydarius Hawkins, singled to load the bases. The next two batters popped out to first and right field, respectively, and Dustin Clements drew a walk to send Smiddy home. A Saltillo throwing error allowed two more runs to score in the inning.

Brian Bymaster, in his first year at the helm of Panther baseball, credited his senior leadership, “It's that senior leadership that brings us back. These guys have been down in the bottom of late innings, they've been there before. I'll hand it to them, these guys never give up.”

It was the bottom of the North Hopkins batting order that led off the bottom of the seventh inning. Bymaster said, “One through nine, we hit the ball well. I have as much confidence in 7-8-9 as I do in 1-2-3.”

Hawkins started the seventh inning rally with a single that could have been for more if it had not been for a diving stop by Lion shortstop Miles Payne. A throwing error allowed Steve Crocker first base and moved Hawkins to third. With two out, an errant pick off attempt at second allowed the tying runs to score.

In the bottom of the eighth, Ramirez singled with one out. With two out in the inning, Rivera reach first on an error while Ramirez crossed the plate for the win.

North Hopkins starter Bradley Ball struck out 11 batters and walked five, giving up seven hits during this five innings on the mound. In the top of the sixth, he hit the first two batters faced. He was replaced by Ramirez, who gave up three hits while striking out four and walking one in the final three innings.

Calling Ball his No. 1 pitcher, Bymaster said, “Bradley was not hitting his spots and getting a little fatigued. I felt like I needed to pull him. He's done a great job for us this year.”� �

For Saltillo, Chase Carr pitched the first five innings striking out four, walking one and giving up two hits. Nolan Gorman, returning to the mound following elbow surgery, struck out four and gave up three hits in his three-inning appearance.

Sandifer said, “Those two kids that pitched today, they are both sophomores. They've improved a lot.”

North Hopkins will draw a bye as playoffs begin the week of March 30. Saltillo will represent District 17-A as the second-place team and will face the District 19 third-place finisher.

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