Barker, Benton shut out Cyclones
BENTON – After having to play come-frombehind baseball to win 8-7 over Marion in Thursday’s first round of the 5A State Tournament, the Benton Panthers cruised behind senior Jesse Barker’s arm to shut out the Russellville Cyclones 9-0 Friday at
Everett Field at Panther Stadium to reach today’s semifinals match between the winner of either Little Rock Christian or Lakeside at 2:30 p.m. in Benton.
Benton will be looking for its second straight title game appearance at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville with a semifinals win as they fell to the Greenwood Bulldogs in the championship last year.
On Friday, Barker set down the first 10 Cyclones before giving up a one-out hit in the fourth, but got an excellent defensive play from senior second baseman Jackson Huskey and struck out the next man to get out of the inning unscathed. Behind more excellent defense, including more Huskey gems and a runsaving diving grab by senior left-fielder Caleb Easterling in the top of the sixth, Barker didn’t allow another hit. He needed just 83 pitches to strike out 10 without a walk, giving up just the one hit in seven complete innings for the win.
It’s nothing new for the Panthers (22-5) as Barker has been excellent on the mound all season.
“He was awesome,” Benton Coach Mark Balisterri said of Barker. “He’s Mr. Consistent. He just pounds the strike zone, works both sides of the plate and gets people out.
“We felt really good about him going long and getting deep into the game. We really needed him to throw the complete game so we could have as much pitching for (today) as possible. He was just on cruise control. When you keep the ball down and you’ve got both your pitches working, he’s just tough to hit. We just want to get to see him pitch again.
Benton gave Barker early offense as senior leadoff Peyton Pallette singled to start the bottom of the first and went to second on sophomore Aidan Garrett’s sacrifice bunt before junior Jaden Woolbright was hit by a pitch for the first time (three total for the game). Senior Logan Easterling, who hit a home run and knocked
in three against Marion, came through again with a single up the middle to plate Pallette for the early 1-0 lead. Junior Peyton Hudgins followed with an RBI ground out before senior Caleb Easterling singled to right field to knock in courtesy runner Dalton Pugh for the 3-0 lead after one.
“Pallette got things started with a base hit and everybody just did their job putting the ball in play,” Balisterri said. “That’s the biggest thing. If we can just put the ball in play, you never know what’s going to happen.”
The Panthers would get some help from the Cyclones in the third as Garrett drew a leadoff walk before Woolbright reached on an error. Logan Easterling walked and Hudgins followed with a sac fly to make it a 4-0 game. Two more runs came around on an error by the Russellville third baseman for the 6-0 advantage.
“We capitalized when they made mistakes,” Balisterri said. “But we’re swinging it well throughout the lineup. Logan’s swinging it well, Caleb’s swinging it well, Peyton Hudgins has got several RBIs and doing a great job, and Woolbright is getting on base almost every time. He’s being patient and not swinging at bad pitches.”
Benton put two more runs up in the fourth on another Logan Easterling RBI single up the middle and twin brother Caleb drew a basesloaded walk two batters later to make it 8-0 Panthers. Benton added its final run when Hudgins hit a two-out single in the sixth, stole second and third base, and scored on a wild pitch for the final tally.
The Panthers needed just six hits for their nine runs as Logan Easterling went 2 for 3 with two RBIs and is 3 for 5 with a homer and five RBIs in the two state tourney games. Hudgins went 1 for 2 with a run and two RBIs as he is 3 for 5 with four RBIs the first two games, and Caleb Easterling was 1 for 2 with two RBIs. Pallette and Garrett added a hit apiece.
But as the saying goes - defense wins championships.
“Huskey had a great game defensively and then that play in the outfield (Caleb’s diving catch),” Balisterri said. “That’s what you’ve got to do to win championships. If we can continue to do it, we’re going to be alright.”
Benton senior second baseman Jackson Huskey makes a play in a 9-0 win over the Russellville Cyclones in the quarterfinals of the 5A State Tournament Friday at Everett Field at Panther Stadium.