For the first time since 2018, there will be a new champion in Class 3A.

Following back-to-back state championships, the Sterlington Panthers baseball team saw their season culminate in a 9-8 loss against No. 1 Berwick, and it wasn't without drama. Sterlington entered the seventh trailing 9-4 and strung together scoring opportunities late to give the No. 1 seed a scare. 

Ram Foster’s RBI triple got a run back with no outs in the inning. Sterling Sims walked after to put runners at the corners with no outs in the inning. That ended Hayden Robinson’s day on the bump, as he allowed five runs on eight hits and one walk with eight strikeouts.

With Clay Menard on the bump for Berwick, Thompson reached on an error, scoring another run to make it a 9-6 ballgame. That brought Easton Bruscato to the plate as the tying run. Bruscato’s RBI single made it a 9-7 ballgame with no outs. Jack Mitchum's sacrifice bunt advanced the runners to second and third with one out. Then John Barr’s sacrifice fly brought the deficit to one run with Travis Adams at the plate and pinch runner Chase Mitchell at second with two outs. Mitchell advanced to third on a wild pitch, but Adams was staring at a 1-2 count. Menard ultimately got the strikeout to preserve Berwick’s victory.

"I told our guys that we're champions. We're Sterlington. We don't blame it on anyone but ourselves. The blame starts with me," Sterlington head coach Mark Sims said. "We don't blame the first base umpire in the first inning for blowing a call right there in the first inning that opened up two more runs for them. We don't blame the third base umpire for calling a phantom foul ball off our foot that was non-existent. We don't blame those guys for that. We made too many mistakes early in the game, and they're good, man. Gosh dog, that's a good team." 

The game went sideways quickly for Sterlington. Four hits in the bottom half of the first put Berwick immediately in the driver seat. The home Panthers scored four runs off of those hits, as Cru Bella’s 2-RBI double and Carter Williams’ 2-RBI single made it a 4-0 affair. Sims tossed 31 pitches in the inning.

Things went from bad to worse in the second inning when Menard tripled and Jayden Milton followed with a two-run blast to make it a 6-0 contest. That ended Sims day on the bump, as Cole Thompson relieved him.  

Sims recorded the first hit for the Panthers in the fourth, as his double led off the inning. Thompson’s two-run blast that followed cut into Berwick’s six-run lead. That seemingly rattled the cage of Robinson, as he hit a batter and walked another in the inning. Sterlington made it a 6-3 ballgame when Adams hit an RBI grounder, but the production ended there.

Berwick added an insurance run in the bottom of the fourth with Milton’s RBI double.

Sterlington’s bats stayed hot in the fifth. Max Risinger led the inning off with a single and advanced to third on Ram Foster’s base hit. With runners on the corners and no outs, Sims’ bunt single scored another Panther run, but an inning-ending double play kept the score at 7-4. Nick Whittington relieved Thompson in the fifth inning. Thompson allowed just one earned run on two hits and two walks in 2.2 innings pitched.

Milton hit his second home run of the game, and this time it was a two-run homer that gave Berwick a five-run lead.

"I told Ben (Sheets), 'Dang man, we weren't going to let the 3-hole hitter beat us and we let the two-hole hitter beat us. That must be the Parker Coley for Berwick this year," Sims said. "And he caught up to some fastballs. That's what good teams do. I think we represented ourselves as back-to-back state champs, and had a chance to win it in the end." 

Down 9-4 in the seventh, the reigning champs were down to their final three outs of the ballgame before scoring four runs.

Sterlington ended its season with a 23-15 record.

Award-winning sports writer for columns and features since joining the field in 2013. As the first-ever featured columnist of the month at Bleacher Report, Martin cut his teeth with online media before joining the newspaper business in 2014.

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