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Panthers see defensive battles at Northern Lights Field

By Sue Sitter - | May 8, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT Cole Schneibel slides across home plate at Northern Lights Field May 3. The Panthers won 8-3 over the HWC Hornets.

The Rugby Panthers found themselves locked into pitching battles against regional opponents on their home diamond at Northern Lights Field April 29 and May 3.

The Panthers held a 1-0 regional record going into the April 29 game against the North Star Bearcats, who had already faced three Region Five opponents, defeating two of them.

North Star’s Dane Hagler and Rugby’s Cy Luna each kept batters at bay for six innings.

Then, the Panthers blinked.

At the top of the seventh inning, Bearcat Caleb Svir walked to first base, setting the stage for the first North Star run when he stole second base. A Panthers catching error gave Svir third base before another walk loaded all bases.

After a conference on the pitching mound, North Star batter Hayden Hagler struck out.

The Panthers’ reprieve was brief. Zachary Jorde stepped up to the plate next, sending a fly ball into left field and bringing two home. Batter Garret Westlind struck out next. However, fatigue seemed to set in when a pitch to the next batter went astray, bringing another Bearcat across the plate.

Luna ended the Bearcats’ time at bat with a third strikeout.

With half an inning to attempt a comeback, Panthers batter Jacob Ripplinger sent a pop fly high over the infield and into first base player Bryce Prouty’s glove.

Cole Schneibel gave the Panthers hope when he sent a line drive into center field next for a base hit, but Hagler ended the inning with two strikeouts.

“Their pitcher did a really nice job and Cy pitched really well, too,” Panthers Coach Travis Risovi said after the game. “They just happened to get a couple of runs in the last inning there.”

“They got the hit at the right time,” Risovi added. “We got a couple of nice hits earlier in the game and just didn’t capitalize on them and they did on their chance.”

The Panthers capitalized on chances for runs against the Harvey-Wells County Hornets at Northern Lights Field May 3.

Erik Foster took a turn on the pitcher’s mound against the Hornets with Luna behind the plate.

This time, the Hornets blinked first.

After Landen Monge held the Panthers back in the first inning, designated hitter Dylan Bartsch started the offensive with a base hit to left field. Schneibel batted next, hitting a hard grounder past second base for another hit. Bartsch landed safely at second on a Hornets error. Batter Gavin Schepp advanced the runners with a sacrifice grounder to the infield before Logan Harner walked to first, loading the bases.

Macen Heisler batted next, bringing home one on a grounder to the infield. Luna batted in another run with a single to left field. Brady Schock brought in two more with a grounder to center field and the inning ended with a 4-0 Panthers lead.

The Hornets regrouped in the fourth inning when batter Logan Jenner doubled to deep center field. A base hit by Ethan Arnold followed, putting runners at first and third. Arnold stole second base before Owen McKinven batted in the first Hornet run with a base hit. Tanner Grossman followed with another RBI on a line drive past second base. The inning ended with Rugby’s lead cut to 4-2.

Luna scored another Rugby run on a base hit to center field, taking second and third on pitching errors. When the ball dribbled out of catcher McKinven’s glove, Luna crossed home plate. The inning ended with a 5-2 Panthers lead.

The Hornets added another run to their total in the fifth inning with an RBI by Jenner. The Panthers added to their total as well beginning with a double to center field by Schneibel. Schepp followed with a base hit before Heisler advanced the runners with a single. Schneibel hustled home on Heisler’s hit, sliding into home.

Jacob Ripplinger took the pitcher’s mound for the sixth inning. The Hornets hit three fly balls from Ripplinger’s pitches, each one caught.

At the bottom of the sixth inning, Schock led the way with base hit to deep right field before Ripplinger advanced him to second with a bunt. Both runners were safe on HWC errors.

Bartsch loaded the bases as he walked to first. Next, Schneibel batted in two runs with another deep center field double. The inning ended with an 8-3 Panthers lead.

Hornets batter Ethan Nitz began the seventh inning with a base hit. The next two batters hit easily caught pop flies, advancing Nitz to second base. Arnold batted next, hitting a fly ball to left field. Nitz ran to home plate, only to be tagged out by Luna.

The game ended with an 8-3 Panthers win.

Risovi said Schneibel “has been working hard in batting practice and he’s just been trying to find that swing. He spent a couple of years without playing baseball because he had a broken bone in his knee a couple of years ago and last year, nobody got to play baseball. So, it’s really been three years since he’s been able to play. But, he’s starting to get it. He’s getting there.”

“He looked good today at the plate,” Risovi said after the game against HWC. “He swung at good pitches and made good contact.”

“Defensively, I’ve been happy all year,” Risovi added. “I think we’re playing good, solid defense and if you throw good strikes and play good defense, you’re giving yourself a good chance to win. And it’s paid off.”

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