Grand slam lifts Panthers over Knights


Ben Black scolded himself for missing the exact pitch he wanted: a fastball, right over the outside corner.


"It was a good pitch to hit," the Lakeside senior said. "I just missed it."

Given another chance Monday night against Evans, Black more than made up for this missed opportunity.

Black, who had popped out with the bases loaded in the second inning, clubbed the first pitch of his next plate appearance over the left-field fence for a grand slam, the difference-making hit in his team's 5-2 Region 3-AAAA home victory.

Lakeside (13-1, 9-0), playing for the first time since a 9-1 loss at Greenbrier last Thursday, is at least two games ahead of everyone in the region with seven games left.

The Panthers appear poised to earn their second region title in as many years.

"Thursday was maybe one of those games that woke us up ... they found a little bit of guts today, because we made plays when we had to," Lakeside coach T.J. Davis said. "It feels nice, because we know that is going to be one of the tougher (teams) to beat. But we can't let up. We got a target as big as you can think of on our backs."

Kody Belcher also homered for the Panthers, who scored enough runs despite not getting a hit until their 14th batter stepped to the plate against hard-throwing Evans starter Tyler Barden. Two home runs negated that slow start.

"They are that kind of team," Evans coach Ricky Beale said. "They can be all over you with one swing."

Said Davis, "We lived off the long ball, and that worked out. (But) we can't keep doing that."

The Panthers, who had failed to score after loading the bases with no outs in the second inning, loaded them again in the fourth (single, walk, single) for Black, whose team trailed 1-0 at the time.

Belcher, leading off the bottom of the fifth inning, smoked a 3-2 offering over the same left-field fence to negate a run the Knights had manufactured in the top of the inning.

Evans got at least one batter on in each of the final two innings but never scored again.

Zach Hayden, one of the area's hardest throwers and a potential Major League draftee this June, worked the final inning for the Panthers for his second consecutive strong relief appearance. He took over for Jeffrey Stoner, who improved to an area-best 5-0.

Hayden, who has been battling arm soreness and was cleared to throw Thursday after a more than three-week hiatus, gave up a leadoff single to Tevin Nelson, then struck out two of the next three batters.

"If he keeps throwing like that, that will give us chances in ballgames," Davis said.

Nelson had two of the Knights' seven singles and reached base in all three plate appearances.



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