SULPHUR — Parker Coley crushed a three-run triple with two outs in the bottom of the first and Harrison Womack twirled 2.2 innings of scoreless relief as Sterlington staved off South Beauregard 4-2 Tuesday afternoon in the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Baseball State Tournament at McMurry Park.
In a tournament marred by two days of rainouts, the Panthers blanked Berwick 1-0 Sunday in the completion of a suspended semifinal game. Seniors Trey Rugg, Davis Johnson and Kyle Elee departed for graduation on Monday night before rejoining the team in time to help the Panthers claim their second state title in three years.
“I am so proud of these guys for holding their composure and playing baseball, and not getting caught up in the moment and panicking,” Sterlington coach Mark Sims said. “I am especially proud of (Adam) Tubbs and Womack for giving us seven solid innings today.”
Tubbs, a junior left-hander, got off to an encouraging start, needing only six pitches to sit the Knights down in order.
Held to three hits in eight innings against Berwick, the Panthers broke loose for four runs on five hits in the bottom of the first Tuesday.
Sterlington leadoff batter Reece Brooks faced more pitches in the bottom of the first than Tubbs threw in the top of the inning. Capping an eight-pitch at bat, Brooks lined a leadoff base hit into center field. In motion on the pitch, Brooks raced to third when Seaver Sheets shot a base hit through the hole vacated by the shortstop. Sheets was thrown out at second, but the Panthers had a runner at third with only one out.
Batting from the No. 3 slot, Braden Hough scalded a base hit about a foot inside the third base bag to plate Brooks with the game’s first run.
Davis Johnson made it four consecutive singles, with courtesy runner Ram Foster holding at second on a well-struck ball to center field. Foster tagged up on Rugg’s fly out to right field before Brock Risinger took a pitch for the team to load the bases.
Coley then delivered the big two-out hit, a three-run triple just beyond the reach of diving right fielder Alec McCain.
Coley’s two-out hit, which earned him the championship game MVP award, loomed even larger as the game went on. With Gunnar Morgan taking over on the mound after the first inning, the Panthers managed only three base runners for the duration of the contest.
Sterlington displayed its defensive prowess in the second.
Chase Fisher was the recipient of a leadoff walk, but was quickly erased on a second base (Brooks) to shortstop (Sheets) to first base (Rugg) double play.
With the bases empty, Wyatt Beasley rifled a base hit to left field, but was erased at second on a perfect throw from left fielder Clay Benson.
Coley dropped a textbook bunt toward third base for a bunt single to start the Sterlington fourth and moved to third on Benson’s sac bunt and Zack Jones’ groundout. Saving a run, South Beauregard first baseman Dylon Jimenez scooped up a low throw in the dirt on Brooks’ ground ball to third base.
Tubbs cruised into the fifth, facing just one over the minimum, but was soon forced to leave due to a blister on his pitching hand. Avery Davis reached on a leadoff error and Wyatt Beasley singled to left. Leland Broussard bunted the runners over, setting up Briton Coleman’s two-run single to center.
With the tying run at the plate, Womack, another left-hander, was summoned from the bullpen.
South Beauregard loaded the bases with two outs on a walk, a fielder’s choice and a hit batter. Womack, however, was able to get out of the inning on an inning-ending fly out to Johnson in right field and the Panthers maintained a 4-2 lead.
There was no further scoring.
Davis beat out an infield single with one down, but was stranded at second following a fly out to Benson and a strikeout.
Cohen Gray was safe on a one-out error in the top of the seventh, bringing the tying run to the plate with the top of the order due up. There was no need for the Panthers to fret. Womack took care of the final two batters himself to secure the save and, more importantly, the state championship.
Tubbs went 4.1 innings, giving up two runs (one earned) on three hits, while striking out two and walking one. Womack logged three punchouts, walked none and surrendered two hits.
Coley wielded the potent stick for the Panthers (35-4) with a triple and a single, and also reached on an error in his third and final plate appearance. Sheets went 2-for-3 and Brooks, Hough and Davis singled.
Fisher was the pitcher of record for the No. 3 seed Golden Knights (32-11). For South Beauregard, the loss offset a spectacular relief outing by senior right-hander Morgan Gunnar, who held the Panthers scoreless on two hits over the final six innings.
Notes: Sterlington’s senior trio of Rugg, Johnson and Elee graduate with a career record of 117-25. … Sterlington made its third straight trip to Sulphur. The Panthers won the 2017 Class 2A state title, made the semifinals last season and captured their second state title in program history Tuesday. … The Panthers closed out the season on a 15-game winning streak. … Sterlington won the state championship in baseball after finishing runner-up in football. … The game was played on Field No. 40, the same field the Panthers won the Class 2A state championship on two years ago.