Clutch performances by sophomore center fielder Parker Coley and junior left-hander Adam Tubbs gave the Sterlington Panthers a shot of momentum going into next week’s Class 3A State Tournament in Sulphur.
Coley came through at the plate and Tubbs returned to form as the Panthers completed a quarterfinal series sweep with a 6-2 Game 2 victory over North Webster on Sunday afternoon.
Inserted into the No. 6 spot in the batting order after sitting out Game 1, Coley responded by going 3-for-3 with a walk. His three hits single-handedly matched the Panthers’ output from Friday night’s 3-1 Game 1 win.
“We have always been good on the mound,” Coley said. “Hitting hasn’t necessarily been a weak point, but any time you have Trey Rugg or Adam Tubbs on the mound, you know you aren’t going to give up a lot of runs. As long as you back then up with a few runs, you like your chances of winning a baseball game.”
Coley’s one-out single set the tone for the Panthers’ three-run second. He later scored the first run of the game on Reece Brooks’ two-out single. Two batters later, Braden Hough singled home two more runs.
“That was a big hit by Hough,” Coley said. “We wanted to jump on them early.”
An inning later, Coley tripled to the left-center gap beyond the reach of North Webster center fielder Blayne Farrington.
“I didn’t get the barrel on the ball, but when I saw the center fielder lay out and the ball get past him, I was thinking third base all the way,” said Coley, who completed the triple with a head first slide. “Nothing was going to stop me from getting to third.”
Following a double by Brock Risinger, Coley went the opposite way for a base hit to right in his third at bat as part of a two-run fifth. Risinger later scored on Clay Benson’s squeeze bunt and Coley crossed home with the Panthers’ final run on a throwing error.
Reaching safely in all four plate appearances, Coley drew a one-out walk in the seventh.
On the defensive side, Coley tracked down Roc Hawthorne’s drive to the right-center gap in the third inning. Taking a strong throw from Coley, shortstop Seaver Sheets whirled and threw to third baseman Zach Jones, who applied the tag for the third out as Hawthorne slid head first into the bag.
For Coley, the highlight of the day was the postgame dogpile as the Panthers celebrated their third straight State Tournament berth.
“I wasn’t on the varsity last year, so this is all new to me,” Coley said. “I’ve been to Sulphur before in travel ball, but not for anything like this. I’m sure it’s going to be crazy down there. I’m so excited.”
Tubbs threw his first seven-inning complete game since March 23 at Oak Grove in the series clincher. After pitching well in the Panthers’ eventual 4-3, nine-inning loss to Class 5A semifinalist West Monroe on March 28, he hit a wall.
“It wasn’t my arm. My whole body was tired from getting toward the end of the season,” Tubbs said. “I haven’t been able to find the zone.”
Tubbs walked two — none after the third inning — and struck out two while allowing six hits Sunday.
“I was getting zoned in toward the end,” Tubbs said. “I felt more like myself again at the end. I’m glad coach (Mark) Sims left me in, so I could finish it.”
Sims had the bullpen up early after Tubbs walked the leadoff batters in the second and third innings.
Coming off of an uninspired 3-1 Game 1 win, Coley and Tubbs gave the Panthers a much-needed boost.
“We played as a team today and it really showed,” Tubbs said. “Everybody did their part. That wasn’t us Friday night.”
Pitching behind senior right-hander Trey Rugg (13-1), Tubbs (8-1) has a tough act to follow game in and game out.
“Any time Trey goes out there, we feel pretty positive we are going to win,” Tubbs said. “He’s the best.”
Rugg has passed his competitive nature down to Tubbs.
“The biggest thing Trey has taught me is you have to compete,” Tubbs said. “No matter the inning or the situation, he’s always taught me to compete. As long as you keep competing, it will work out in the end.”
Tubbs was able to apply that lesson Sunday as the Knights loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the sixth. With the help of an unconventional double play, he escaped the inning by allowing only one run, and went on to finish the complete game victory.
Coley and Tubbs both earned their passages to Sulphur with prime-time performances Sunday afternoon.