By Joshua J. Darling, Sports Information Director
ROME, Ga. – No. 2/9 LaGrange (18-6, 6-0 CCS) would deliver all four of their runs in the fifth to pull ahead and it would be all they would need to post a 4-3 victory at Berry (9-15, 4-5 CCS) in an NCAA Division III baseball game on Tuesday, March 28.
It would be a pitching duel right from the start as the teams combined for just four hits over the first three innings before Berry broke through with a pair of runs in the bottom of the fourth.
A hit by pitch and steal by Levi Cloud and walk to John D'Amelio, followed by a passed ball, put runners on second and third with one out. Following a pop up for the second out, Andrew Pendleton poked a ball through the right side for a two-RBI single. The Vikings would get another single and steal to put two on but would do no further damage as a fly out closed it out.
The tide would turn in the fifth, however, as the Panthers plated four runs on three hits and three walks to flip the script and pull ahead 4-2. They would load the bases with three walks in the first four batters, setting the stage for the current Collegiate Conference of the South (CCS) Offensive Player of the Week senior third baseman Joe Ruth (Chiefland, Fla.), who proceeded to lace a single through the left side to knot it up at 2-2.
Freshman catcher Curt Bonner (Cartersville, Ga.), the CCS Rookie of the Week, picked up where he left off as he hammered a double down the left field line to score two more and put LaGrange up 4-2.
It would be a critical hit as, after holding Berry hitless in the fifth and sixth, the Vikings would manufacture a run in the seventh to cut the deficit in half. That would come in the form of a two-out walk by leadoff man John Poist and a single by Nick Brunswick. Poist would then come around to score when Brunswick drew a throw at second that got away and made it a 4-3 game.
Berry would then threaten in the eighth as D'Amelio cracked a one-out double and Pendleton drew a one-out walk. They would get nothing out of it, however, as sophomore reliever Ashton Shackleford (Ellerslie, Ga.), already having set down one batter by strikeout, rung up pinch hitter Wesley Maxey to end the threat and hang on to the one-run margin.
The Vikings would not be done though as they mounted a challenge in the bottom of the ninth that very nearly won them the game. Poist would double down the right field line with one out and then immediately move to third on a wild pitch.
With that they would have the opportunity to tie the game without benefit of a hit but the next two batters would walk to load the bases. Shackelford then locked down any possibility of a comeback as he got the next two batters swinging to close out the one-run victory.
Pendleton led Berry with two RBIs while Poist was 2-for-4 with a double and run and D'Amelio had a double and run scored to round out the top offensive performers. Andrew Higgins started and went 4.1 innings, allowing two earned runs and would get a no-decision while Ethan Crump took over for him and would not record an out and gave up two runs to fall 0-5.
Bonner led the Panthers with two RBIs on a double, Ruth went 3-for-4 with an RBI and sophomore outfielder Jorge Fragoso (East Point, Ga.) was 2-for-4 with a walk, RBI and run. First baseman Brooks Short (Auburn, Ala.) went 1-for-1 with a run and three walks and freshman pitcher Eduardo Peralta (David, Chirqui, Panama) threw the first 6.2 innings, allowing two earned runs to pick up the win and move to 4-0. Shackleford tossed the final 1.2 innings, striking out four to collect the save.
The Panthers are now off for a week when they face a familiar foe – Berry, in the back half of a home-and-home. That game will be played at 6 p.m. at Cleaveland Field in Williamson Stadium on Tuesday, April 4.