Lions Defeat Panthers 7-4
By Will Johnson
LOVELADY – The Lovelady Lions were in a position they were not used to last Tuesday night. If they lost to the Normangee Panthers their league record would fall to 7-4, with no hope of defending their district crown.
If they were to win against Normangee, it would set up a showdown with the Grapeland Sandies on Friday, April 20 for first place. The Sandies held up their end of the bargain with an earlier defeat of North Zulch and the Lions held up their end as well, as they beat the Panthers by a final score of 7-4.
Carter Murray got the start for Lovelady and looked a little shaky in the first inning. Logan Andrews grounded into a 4-3 force to open the game but the next batter faced by Murray – Evan Pate – deposited Murray’s 2-0 pitch over the left field wall for a solo HR.
Murray shook it off, however, and then retired the next two batters he faced – Ryan Pate and Bubba Mayes – to end the Normangee half of the inning.
Jacob Schmidt was on the mound for the Panthers and struck out Lovelady’s Chad Fulgham to lead off the bottom of the first. Jay Thomas Robinson had an infield single and advanced to second when Logan Lowery grounded out.
Murray was up next and hit a deep fly ball to left that was misplayed. The miscue allowed Robinson to speed around the bases and cross the plate to tie the game at one.
Murray reached on the error but was stranded at the first base bag when Jaxson Reeves grounded out to end the inning.
After Murray held the Panthers in check with a 1-2-3 second inning, it looked like Schmidt was about to do the same after he retired the first two batters he faced. The third batter of the inning was Taylor Womack and when Schmidt hung a 2-2 breaking ball, Womack made him pay with a solo shot of his own to make the score 2-1, Lovelady.
Schmidt then gave up a single to Mason Phillips and walked Fulgham. A passed ball moved the runners to second and third, but they were stranded when Robinson grounded out.
A quiet third saw Murray mow down the side in order and the Panthers make a pitching change when Austin Breest came in to relieve Schmidt. Breest allowed the first two batters he faced to reach base, but he was cagey enough to work around the possible damage and get out of the inning unscathed.
When Normangee came in to bat, they tied the game at two. E. Pate led off with a single and moved to second on R. Pate’s single through the infield. Mayes was up next and drew a walk to load the bases.
Murray managed to strike out Chayse Smith but couldn’t hold the lead. Colby Powell slapped a shot to Ethan Tullos at third. Tullos fired home but not in time to catch E. Pate who scored to tie the game. After E. Pate scored, Murray caught Luke Yellot swinging at strike three and forced CJ Rosales to ground out to first.
As the game moved into the bottom of the fourth inning, the Lions managed to get two runners into scoring position but could not bring either one home before Breest recorded the third out.
Breest led off the top of the fifth and struck out. Andrews was up next and drilled a double into left. E. Pate followed Andrews to the plate and reached on an outfield error, which moved Andrews to third.
E. Pate was next in the batting order and picked up an RBI with a sac fly that brought Andrews home to make the score 3-2, Normangee. After Murray walked Mayes, he got Smith to ground into a 2-3 force to end the Panthers’ inning.
As the Lovelady team came back in from the field, it seemed as if something had changed in their demeanor. The Lions pounced on the Panthers for five runs in the fifth to take a commanding lead and never looked back.
After a Reeves ground out, Johnson was hit by a pitch. Tullos followed with a single and then Womack was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
With no where to put him, Breest walked Womack to push Johnson across the plate and tie the game at three. That was all she wrote for Breest as he was relieved by Mayes.
Mayes came in and promptly walked Fulgham to score Tullos from third. An error on a Robinson bunt allowed Womack to cross the plate which made the score 5-3. Lowery also drew a walk which plated Phillips and then Murray walked which plated Fulgham to increase the lead to 7-3.
After Murray walked, E. Pate came on in relief of Mayes and retired the first two batters he faced to end the inning.
The Panthers tacked on a run in the top of the sixth to inch closer, but that was as close as they would get as the Lions hung on for the 7-4 win.
The victory sets up a Friday evening showdown with the district title on the line as the Sandies look to travel to Lovelady and dethrone the defending champs. The first pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. As of press time, the score was unavailable.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.