Now that the conditions outside have started to become somewhat favorable, Saturday was as good a day as any for the Centralia varsity baseball team to catch up on some previously postponed Clarence Cannon Conference games.
That meant hosting a doubleheader that began with an 11-4 win over Clark County and ended with an incredibly close 3-2 defeat to Highland.
In the opening contest the Panthers tried to build on that seven-run lead in the bottom of sixth when Kaiden Davenport got hit by a pitch with one out. Evan Stidham then reached base on a fielders choice and stole second, but when Ben Schmidt struck out Centralia's final rally was over before it ever truly started.
"In the first game we were able to get guys on base and our guys at the plate capitolized," said Centraila head coach Mike Rodgers. "The guys didn't try and do to much, just do their jobs and move the runners. We kept moving the runners. We put runs on the board every inning and it equaled a win."
Now it was up to pitcher Brett Jones to get the final three out for the Panthers, but when Ethan Overhulser and Tanner Ellam were able to draw walks and Overhulser took third on a wild pitch, that put runners on first and third with one out thanks to Vince Billings striking out in between. Jones' never lost his composure, though. Instead, he got the Indians Grant Plenge to hit a short pop fly, and after Ellam took second on a wild pitch when the next batter stepped up, he struck him out to end the game.
The second contest was actually decided in the very first at-bat as the entire squad was finding its rhythm and started with Highland''s Tucker Olson drawing a walk from Centralia's pitcher Schmidt and Chad Smith reaching base on an error. After both runners advanced on a wild pitch, Tommy Harvey put the Cougars up 1-0 with an RBI single. Derek Howes then stepped to the plate, and that's where he witnessed Smith score on a wild pitch before he drew a walk.
Hunter Florea next charted an RBI single for Highland to put runners on first and second and give his team a 3-0 lead. But, that's when Schmidt found his groove for the Panthers and struck out Colton Bliven and Cole Schutte to end the inning.
"Ben Schmidt is a very tough guy to hit. He's got a lot lof command of his curveball and his fastball has a lot of velocity," said Rodgers. "We walked a guy and made a couple of errors and they got three runs with just two hits. After that Schmidt settled in. I think he had 14 strikeouts and he did a good job getting out of a bases loaded jam a couple times. "
The Panthers came right back at Highland in the bottom of the first starting when leadoff hitter Jared Holiman drew a walk and stole second. Because Dawson Kirtley was safe on an error, Centralia had runners at the corner with no outs until Will Rolfson struck out as the next man up. Caden Van Skike suffered that same fate to become the second out of the stanza for Centralia, but Cougars pitcher Chad Smith also threw a wild pitch that allowed Holiman to cross home plate and make it a 3-1 game.
The rest of the contest was a pitchers duel that featured both hurlers coming out of the game in the final inning because of their individual pitch count, and for the Panthers that meant handing the ball over to Rolfson. He then proceeded to get Smith to ground out to the short stop prior to striking out Highland's Harvey and Riley Eisenberg in order.
What followed was Gus Stidham giving the home fans hope by launching Centralia's final at-bat with a deep triple that led to a Jones RBI when he reached base on an error as the next hitter to make it a 3-2 contest. Morale was high both in the dugout and amongst the Panther supporters at that point, but the very first double play of the day is what came next to leave the squad just an out away from being done for the day. That put Harvey on the mound for Highland and Evan Stidham at the plate.
One strikeout later and the day was over for Centralia despite their best efforts.
The Panthers, 5-3 overall, play Sturgeon on Tuesday and are at the Boonville Wooden Bat Tournament with Eldon and Grand Valley on April 20.