May 15th, 2018

Rocks rally walks-off Panthers

Block_screenshot 2018-10-06 at 2

Paul Najjar

Senior Writer


Rocks rally walks-off Panthers
Trinity's Ben Metzinger raps an rbi double in Rocks' three-run 7th / cover: Hunter David's two-run walk-off double / photos: Paul Najjar

A lackluster Trinity lineup through six innings turned lethal on defending state champion Pleasure Ridge Park in the bottom of the seventh.

Senior DH Hunter David pounded an elevated off-speed pitch to plate the game-winning runs in the Shamrocks’ 4-3 walk-off victory at Thurman Hutchins Park Tuesday night.

The Rocks (25-6) strung together three hits, half of their game total, coupled with a hit batsman and a walk in the bottom of the seventh to rally from 3-1 down for the win.

PRP (22-6) notched two hits in the first, fourth, fifth and seventh innings, but their nine hits and 12 total base runners were curtailed by two uncharacteristic base running miscues.

With temperatures in the low-90’s, it felt like mid-August rather than mid-May. One could definitely say that Trinity couldn’t handle the heat until that late rally.

The Panthers senior starting pitcher Nick Rucker kept Trinity off balance throughout the contest, mixing a variety of off-speed pitches effectively.

“We’ve had trouble all year with that type of pitcher,” Trinity head coach Rick Arnold said. “He did his job well and mixed speeds enough to keep us out of sync. But we just missed on a couple of pitches and we’ve got to get better at that. I tell the guys all the time that ‘just-misses’ are not hits. We made some adjustments mentally and that helped.”

But, buoyed by a few stellar defensive plays in the 5th, 6th and 7th innings that thwarted three potential scoring opportunities for the Panthers, the Rocks made a stand in their last at bat.

Trailing 3-1, senior shortstop Matthew Ramser, who singled in his first at bat, was hit by a Rucker pitch. Metzinger followed with a blistering shot to the gap to score Ramser cutting the PRP lead to 3-2.

That prompted PRP coach Richard Hawks to insert junior David Aguilar in relief of Rucker.

“Nick (Rucker) gave us everything he had and just ran out of gas,” Hawks said. “He’s a tough kid who does a great job wherever we put him. But, they had the right part of their lineup coming up at the right time. We made a couple of base running blunders that could have given us a chance to bust open the game. It was two very good teams out there, top-10 caliber teams that played hard to the end.”

Aguilar had a little trouble locating his pitches as Trinity freshman Daylen Lile looked at four straight balls outside the zone for a walk. Senior 2B Dylan Byerly followed with a perfectly placed bunt single down the third base line to load the bases setting the stage for David’s game-clinching hit.

“Knowing coach Arnold, I knew that I’d get one pitch to hit and if I didn’t get it (a hit) then I’d sacrifice (bunt) to get the tying run in,” David said. “I got my pitch—a high curveball—and I was ready for it.”

Ready indeed as he drove the ball into the left-center gap scoring Metzinger and Lile to end the game.

PRP scored in the first on a Noah McDonald leadoff single followed by a Reed Blasczyk sacrifice and a two-out rbi single from Matt Cavanaugh. But the Panthers also stranded eight base runners and had two runners picked off.

With runners on first and second in the 6th, Metzinger threw behind Jalil Akbar to first baseman A.J. Arnold, who tossed it to Byerly to record the third out.

In the 7th, back to back singles from Blasczyk and Rucker gave the Panthers another great opportunity to increase its 3-1 lead. But Blasczyk strayed off of second and Metzinger fired a seed to Ramser who chased down Blasczyk and tagged him near third base for the second out of the inning.

The Panthers collected nine hits with Blasczyk, Rucker and Akbar each getting credit for a couple of singles.

Nick Carroll, who replaced sophomore starter Kaelan Racculia in the 7th, got the final three outs for the Rocks and recorded the win.

Racculia faced adversity in five of the six innings he pitched. Though PRP had runners on base in every inning, Racculia dug in when the Rocks needed him to get outs. He finished the game allowing seven hits, four walks and two earned runs against a potent, experienced Panthers lineup.

“The most important thing about this game is that we threw a kid (Racculia) to see where he fits on the mound, in our rotation and he was really dynamite tonight,” Arnold said of his sophomore starter. “PRP is still the state champion and they bring it every at bat and to limit them to three runs was really big for us and great to see from Kaelan.”

Metzinger’s two doubles and Lile’s single and a double paced the Rocks’ offense. Both players scored a run as did Byerly and Ramser.

As defending state champs, the Panthers are still dealing with the passing of PRP baseball coaching legend Bill Miller. While the toughest days may be behind them, the sting of the reality of the Hall of Famer’s passing is still evident.

“He’s not replaceable,” Hawks said of the loss of his close friend. “There’s no way you can fill coach Miller’s shoes, we’re just standing in them for now, doing the best we can. We hope that we can represent what he meant to PRP baseball the very best that we can because that was his legacy. For a couple of us coaches who have been around for 25-plus years, it’s been fun for us too.

“Last week it seemed like the kids have gotten through the toughest part. It just shows how tough this team is. With everything on them: defending state champs, all your players back (from last year’s title run) and then top it off with our coach not being with us…I’m just so doggone proud of them every time they come out here and compete.”

Trinity will travel to Central Hardin on Thursday while the Panthers will make the trip down Dixie to face rival Butler on the same night. 

 

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