The bottom third of the order was top-notch for Panther Creek.
Cole Grove, Parker Fernstrum and Coleman Barnacascel combined for four hits, two triples, four runs and three runs batted in in the Catamounts’ 7-1 victory at home over Athens Drive on Friday.
“We just look to jump on early fastballs because being at the bottom of the order, they overlook us all the time,” No. 9 hitter Barnacascel said. “We like to jump early, get on base, help our team out and score some runs.”
Barnacascel’s RBI triple capped a three-run second inning, and Grove’s RBI triple and Fernstrum’s run-scoring single powered a three-run third for Panther Creek (5-1, 3-1 Southwest Wake Athletic Conference).
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“The bottom of our lineup is a huge spark plug in our offense,” PC coach Dan Hall said. “Some teams don’t do that quite as much. We like to have better hitters throughout the lineup and have a second lead-off guy at the bottom.”
No part of the order worked for the Jaguars (0-5, 0-3), continuing a disappointing early-season trend. Athens had only one hit against Catamount pitchers Garrett Russell and Ben LaSpaluto, an RBI single by Anthony Fraraccio in the top of the fourth.
“Their pitchers did a really good job, but in high school baseball, you expect more than one hit,” Athens coach Ryan Westbrook said. “Our approaches haven’t been the best, so we’ve got to work on that.”
Jaguar hitters need to look for fastballs early in the count, Westbrook said.
“If we start hitting the ball, we could be a pretty good team,” Westbrook said. “That being said, we play in a very tough conference. There are no nights off. It’s brutal. It’s been consistently the best conference in the state, but that makes it tough.”
They said it
“That’s worked for us so far, and it until it doesn’t work, I’m not changing it,” Hall said of having Grove (1-for-2, RBI), Fernstrum (1-3, RBI) and Barnacascel (2-2, RBI) hitting seventh, eighth and ninth, respectively.
Three to know
Ben LaSpaluto, Panther Creek: The junior was dynamite in relief of Russell. Against his first batter, LaSpaluto induced Cole Earl into a double play, and he finished with four strikeouts in two-and-two-third innings of hitless ball. LaSpaluto also went 2-3 at the plate.
Garrett Russell, Panther Creek: The senior didn’t give up a hit until the fourth, a solid single. Russell walked five and threw two wild pitches but gave up only one run.
Ben Ruth, Athens Drive: The Jaguars seemed to have found another pitcher they can count on, as Ruth gave up one run on four hits in three innings of relief.
Athens has only scored more than five runs in two of its games this season, and that has to get better if the Jaguars want to compete in the SWAC.
“For whatever reason, these guys are swinging at everything,” Westbrook said. “Right now, that’s not going to work.”
Westbrook’s team is learning on the fly, too, as Athens has played three of its first five games in the tough SWAC.
“We don’t have any guys who will quit,” Westbrook said. “We’ve got some guys who had a lot of success last year, and I think a few are just trying to put too much pressure on themselves. And some are trying to figure out the JV vs. varsity level, and that’s big.”
Out of bounds
Home plate umpire Larry Boykin left the game in the top of the third after getting struck on the back of his left hand with an errant pitch. A splint was placed on his hand, and he had to come out of the game. Randy Pope, who started in the bases, replaced Boykin behind the plate after a 25-minute delay. Pope finished the game as the lone umpire.
PC is off to a hot start after a losing record a year ago, but the Catamounts want more.
“I’m looking to win the conference this year,” Barnacascel said. “I’m not settling for anything less.”
Hall, meanwhile, has been pleased with the steady progress his team has made.
“So far, the mentality, the energy, the work ethic has been exactly what the coaching staff has asked for,” Hall said. “We remind them of that on a daily basis. We make weekly goals, and our goal was to get three this week. We went 3-0.”
Russell and LaSpaluto combined to give up one hit and one run while striking out six in six innings.
“Outstanding,” Barnacascel said. “They threw strikes, kept it low, and that’s tough to hit. Great pitchers, great guys.”