Waterloo Region Record

Panthers hope to bounce back at home

- GREG MERCER Waterloo Region Record gmercer@therecord.com Twitter: @MercerReco­rd

BARRIE — Luke Baker and the Kitchener Panthers have seen enough of the Barrie Baycats in recent years to know no lead is ever safe.

On Tuesday night, they saw that once again when the Baycats overcame a four-run deficit to win Game 1 of their Intercount­y Baseball League final 7-4.

For Barrie, it was their ninth straight win since starting the playoffs. For Kitchener, it was a reminder the five-time defending champions have a knack for fighting back late in games in the way the best veteran clubs always do.

“If you count them out, you’re in trouble,” said Baker, the Panthers’ manager.

“They’re a team that will constantly grind and work. They may not beat you with 10 home runs in a game, but they’re going to beat you with singles and doubles and a timely home run.”

The Panthers, who host Barrie for Game 2 Thursday night at Jack Couch Park, finished the regular season tied for first with Barrie. They won a pair of regular season games against them this summer, and forced last year’s finals to six games.

So they know the Baycats can be beat. There’s just not a lot of room for error against such a deep lineup with veteran pitching backed up with good defence.

“They’re a team that can easily score,” Baker said. “They’re a good team and we respect them. But we also have to believe in ourselves. They’re human, and they can be beat.”

On Tuesday night, the Panthers capitalize­d on just three hits and a walk, including homers by Brian Burton and Mike Gordner. But Barrie got to starter Jasvir Rakkar — who took a comebacker off the face in the second inning — in the fifth and sixth innings, scoring six times before Baker called for the bullpen.

Barrie’s Emilis Guerrero blanked Kitchener over the first three frames before the Panthers finally broke through for four runs. Once Barrie took the lead in the sixth, the Baycats’ bullpen slammed the door.

The Baycats’ Ryan Spataro went 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run, Jordan Castaldo singled twice and drove in two, Starlin Rodriguez plated a pair of runs and stole two bases, Kyle DeGrace and Ryan Rijo each had an RBI, Conner Morro and Branfy Infante both scored a run, and Jon Waltenbury singled and doubled.

It was a sombre ride back to Kitchener, Baker admitted. But the manager said the key will be how his team bounces back from a frustratin­g loss to start the series.

Barrie is sending a busload of fans to Jack Couch Park for Thursday’s 7:30 p.m. game, so Baker is hoping local fans can give the Panthers a hometown boost. His players feed off that kind of energy, he said.

“If they’re got their crew coming down, we want to make sure we’re backing our boys up,” he said.

Keeping Barrie off the scoreboard is unlikely, Baker said. But that doesn’t mean the Panthers won’t have their chances, too.

“Barrie is going to get their runs. You’re not going to shut them out. They’re a good team, a smart team, a scrappy team,” Baker said.

“You can’t quit against a team like that. But we’re a scrappy team, too.”

 ?? COURTESY OF DAN CONGDON ?? Jasvir Rakkar was tagged with the loss Tuesday after allowing six runs on eight hits while pitching into the sixth inning.
COURTESY OF DAN CONGDON Jasvir Rakkar was tagged with the loss Tuesday after allowing six runs on eight hits while pitching into the sixth inning.

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