Comets hand Panthers first defeat in post-season play
After an undefeated season of regular play, the Rugby Babe Ruth Panthers found its first loss where it didn’t expect it the first round of the championship tournament at home July 20.
The Panthers faced a Rolette Comet team burning with determination after Rolette defeated the New Rockford/Sheyenne Black Sox 8-7 in the first game of the day.
Although the Panthers had batted down the Comets easily in their regular season, Rolette scored their first run at the top of the first inning.
The Panthers were unable to answer back, stranding one runner at the inning’s end.
Panther pitcher Erik Foster held the Comets back, but the Panthers stayed at 0 runs until the bottom of the fourth inning.
After a wild Isaac Herval pitch hit Panther Brody Schneibel at the bottom of the fourth inning, it seemed the Panthers would make progress. Brody edged away from the bag toward second base, but he was denied a chance to steal. With two outs, Macen Heisler doubled with a line drive to center field, setting the Panthers up for a run batted in by Garrett Sullivan.
The fifth inning began with a 1-1 tie and light rain falling. The Panthers picked off batter Dalton Hansey after he walked to first, and struck out two batters, holding the 1-1 tie in place.
After catcher Austin Schneibel struck out in the Panthers’ lineup, left fielder Austin Dibble moved to first base on a wild pitch, then stole second base. The Comets stopped the next two Panther batters in their tracks. The sixth inning opened with the 1-1 tie holding steady.
A base hit for Foster and a Brody Schneibel walk put Panthers on base. Heisler followed with a single, loading the bases.
Sullivan batted one in with a sacrifice pop fly, and the Panthers led 2-1.
The seventh inning began, fans ducking under umbrellas in the steady rain. After Comet left fielder Mike Counts struck out, a Rolette runner took a base again, this time due to a catcher interference call. The tide turned away from Rugby.
A Hansey line drive netted a double, putting Dacoteau at third for the tie run. An alert Panther infield handled a Dustin Hudson chopper, keeping the Comet runners in place.
A wild pitch would bring Dacoteau home, however, followed by a Comet RBI to put Rolette in a 3-2 lead.
The Panthers fought to rally at the bottom of the seventh and last inning, but hits went foul. Two caught fly balls and an out at first ended the Panthers’ perfect record.
The Panthers’ loss didn’t dash hopes for a championship completely, but a climb to the top would be tougher.
No stranger to Panther baseball, Comet coach Eli Luna played as a co-op athlete for Rugby High School while attending TGU High School.
Did his familiarity with Rugby’s style of play give the Comets an advantage?
“No, not really,” Luna said. “I just told them if they played their best baseball, nobody’s going to beat us.”
Results from the next two days of the Turtle Mountain League Babe Ruth playoffs will appear in next week’s Tribune.
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