Oak Grove pitcher William Cain came through when the Panthers needed him most.
Facing bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth inning, Cain struck out Grain Valley pinch hitter Nick Wagner to help preserve a 5-4 MRVC West win over the rival Eagles Tuesday at Grain Valley.
Cain turned in a gritty, complete-game performance that was backed by timely hitting from the lower part of the order. He allowed seven hits – all singles – and finished with six strikeouts.
No. 9 hitter Josh Lewis had a pair of two-out singles that drove in three runs and scored a run to support Cain. Jaxon Althaus, courtesy runner for catcher Jackson Blansit, scored two runs and had a stolen base that led to a run, and leadoff man Tanner Johnson had three hits, scored a run and drove in the eventual game-winning run with a hit and infield throwing error in the Panthers’ two-run sixth inning.
While the Panthers did everything to please coach Evan Jones, the Eagles turned in a performance that left coach Brian Driskell shaking his head.
“We’re in a process right now where I see a decline in our play, not improvement, and that’s disappointing,” said Driskell, whose 8-6 Eagles fell to 3-3 in the Missouri River Valley Conference West. “We made base running mistakes that cost us two runs – mental mistakes, the type of mistakes you’re not supposed to be making at this time of the year – and we’re not getting the timely hits we had early in the season.
“I congratulated their pitcher because he did a nice job out there with basically one pitch – his fastball. We’re too good of a hitting team to get beat by a guy who just has one pitch. But he did it, and you have to tip your cap to him.”
Jones calls the pitches from the bench, and he totally agreed with Driskell’s observation about Cain throwing basically one pitch.
“I think William threw about eight curves and three changeups and the rest were fastballs,” Jones said after the Panthers improved to 8-7 and 3-3. “He made some big pitches today – getting out of that bases-loaded jam in the sixth and then getting out of the seventh inning after they scored two runs to make it 5-4.
“We had some huge two-out hits. You know, Josh was our leadoff man early in the season and he kind of struggled so we moved him to No. 9 so he could see some more fastballs. He’s done a great job down there, almost like another leadoff hitter. This was a big win; a win where we did all the little things it takes to beat a good team like Grain Valley.”
Lewis had a two-run, two-out single in the top of the second inning and an RBI single in the top of the sixth. Quin Schnieders added an RBI single and the final run scored on an infield error.
Grain Valley scored two runs in the second on RBI singles by Austin Foster and Dalton Egelston, and made the game interesting by scoring two in the bottom of the seventh on Ethan Childress’ infield grounder and an infield error by the Panthers.
When Cain coaxed a foul ball pop fly that was caught by third baseman Kyle Clark for the final out, he showed emotion for the first time in the game, pounding his glove and celebrating with his teammates.
“It was pretty much all fastballs today,” Cain said. “The guys did a great job getting big two-out hits and we were able to get out of that jam in the sixth and hold them to two runs in the seventh. It’s been a long time since we’ve won over here. It feels good.”
Lewis said the lower part of the Panthers lineup takes great pride in what they do offensively.
“We have some great hitters at the top of our lineup, but we like to contribute, too,” Lewis said. “We just wanted to get some runs for William because he did a great job out on the mound today. We got some two-out hits and we got the win.”