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Panthers end regular season with one in the W column

By Sue Sitter - | Jul 17, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT Panthers batter Macen Heisler connects with a pitch against the Bottineau Slugs July 6 at Rugby’s Northern Lights Field.

Rugby’s Panthers Babe Ruth team finished their regular season of play July 8 with a 5-4 win against Rolla and renewed energy for a tough tournament ahead.

Battles against the Bottineau Slugs and Cando Bearcats tested the Panthers’ mettle during the month-long season. The Panthers went down in defeat to both teams each time they met. Other games included a muddy slog through Rugby’s Northern Lights Field where the Panthers saw a lead against New Rockford-Sheyenne’s Black Sox turn into a rainy day loss.

Panthers Coach Travis Risovi kept his advice to the Panthers simple throughout the season: “Keep your head up, keep playing hard.”

Rugby took the advice to heart, relishing their role as spoilers, denying shutouts or 10-run, short-game wins to league leaders.

The picture had looked bleak for the Panthers against Bottineau July 6 when Bottineau took a commanding 10-0 lead in the first three innings.

The Panthers struck back with a two RBI double by Macen Heisler, who later came home on a wild pitch to narrow the gap to 10-3.

The Slugs pulled ahead again, threatening to end the game with a 12-run lead in the fourth inning. If Bottineau kept the lead, the win would be theirs in five innings.

The Panthers held the Slugs back for another inning, showing remarkable fielding skills with a double play by Heisler and Travis Risovi and a diving catch by Tucker Volk.

Next, Austin Schneibel set things in motion with a triple on Bottineau errors. He crossed the plate after a sacrifice fly ball from Jon Lashman. One out and two walks later, a miscalculation by Bottineau’s infield resulted in three runners safe on loaded bases. Hudson Hjelden and Landon Zietz crossed the plate on walks, putting the Panthers back in the game.

Rugby would battle back to a 10-16 loss.

“We could easily have called it a game at the fifth inning and said, ‘We’re behind 10 runs and it’s over,’ but we kept fighting and that’s what you ask of the kids,” Risovi said. “We knew coming into the season that we’re a young team and we don’t have a whole lot of experience on the baseball field in Babe Ruth. I like what I’m seeing.”

“I thought we had some really nice plays,” Risovi added. “We had a couple of kids we’ve leaned on as leaders on this team. Macen is probably the biggest one. He’s one kid who was lucky enough to get an extra year Babe Ruth baseball in this year because he was a young sophomore and he’s going into his junior year. He’s a kid who got a lot of experience last year and he’s one of the main kids on the high school team to and you can see it on the field. You can see it when he plays. He’s a leader and he really made some nice plays today.”

“Tatum made a couple of nice plays at shortstop, too. He showed some good range and got after a couple of balls,” Risovi added. “That’s the thing – they’re 13 to 15 year old boys, so they’re going to make mistakes, but I like the effort and I like the fact they’re trying to get better.”

With confidence boosted, the Panthers traveled to Robert Neameyer Field in Rolla to take on the Bulldogs.

After an early 1-0 Rolla lead, the Panthers leaped ahead with a two RBI single by Schneibel. A double RBI by Nash Wollenzien followed, and the Panthers led 4-1.

The Bulldogs answered with an RBI of their own from Cole Henderson. The Panthers went to work in the fourth inning with a triple by Schneibel, who batted in the Panthers’ fifth run for the game.

The Bulldogs fought back, scoring two more runs before the game’s end but the Panthers ended their regular season with a game in the W column.

“It was a big win for us going into the tournament,” Heisler said after the win. “And I think we can surprise teams and make a run. But it’s always fun when we’re playing and that’s what most important.”

The Panthers kicked off their post-season play in Cando July 12. After advancing one round in the Turtle Mountain League Babe Ruth Tournament on a 12-9 win against Belcourt, the Panthers fell to Cando’s Bearcats yet again, 14-0. The Panthers faced Rolla once again, this time losing 10-7.

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