Barker, Ben­ton shut out Cy­clones

The Saline Courier Weekend - - SPORTS - By Tony Le­na­han

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.”

GREG DAVIS/Spe­cial to The Sa­line Courier

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.

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