All aboard! Sterlington will load up the bus to Sulphur for the third straight season after sweeping North Webster in a best-of-three Class 3A quarterfinal series.
Sterlington validated its reservations to the State Tournament with a 6-2 victory over the Knights on Sunday afternoon at Panther Park.
In a rematch of last year’s semifinals, top-seeded Sterlington will face defending state champion and No. 4 seed Berwick (30-8) on Thursday at McMurry Park in Sulphur. First pitch is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on Field No. 40.
Sterlington won Game 1 of the North Webster series 3-1 Friday night. Game 2 was pushed back a day due to rain.
In Sunday’s matchup, the Panthers took command early with a three-spot in the second.
Parker Coley singled up the middle with one away and Zach Jones took a pitch just below the ribs with two down to bring up the top of the order. Reece Brooks then singled to left, driving in Coley, who slid home ahead of the tag.
After Seaver Sheets walked to load the bases, Braden Hough drilled a 3-2 offering into left field for a two-run single to make it 3-0.
Sterlington left-hander Adam Tubbs walked Sawyer Howard to start the North Webster half of the second, but was tagged out by second baseman Reece Brooks on the front end of a 4-3 double play. Moments later, shortstop Sheets ranged to his left on a ground ball near the second base bag for the third out.
Coley’s one-out triple to the left-center alley plated Trey Rugg, who walked, as the Panthers stretched the spread to 4-0 in the third.
North Webster matched the Panthers’ run in the home half of the frame when Gavin Gillentine drew a leadoff walk, moved to second on Cason Mahaffey’s bunt and scored on Roc Hawthorne’s two-out double to center. Hawthorne was thrown out going for the triple on an 8-6-5 (Coley to Sheets to Jones) relay, leaving the score at 4-1.
Sterlington distanced itself with two more in the fifth.
Brock Risinger rolled a double to the left field wall with one down and held at third on Coley’s opposite-field single to right. With runners at the corners, Clay Benson squeezed Risinger across. Next, Jones reached on a throwing error. Coley trotted home when the throw caromed into the outfield as Jones stole second.
Working with a 6-1 lead, Tubbs pitched out of a dicy situation in the sixth.
Hawthorne was safe on a fielding error, Conner Audirsch laid down a bunt single and Kade Garmany singled to right to pack the sacks with nobody out.
Howard, the Knight’s cleanup batter, then skied out to Davis Johnson in right field to start a 9-6-5 (Johnson to Sheets to Jones) double play. Hawthorne scored while Audirsch was trapped between second and third, but the Panthers gladly traded the run for the out.
Defusing the threat completely, Hough, fired a perfect throw to Jones on an inning-ending pickoff at third base.
Tubbs pitched around Tyler Lee’s one-out single in the bottom of the seventh before closing out the complete game effort with a punchout and a popup to Jones.
The dogpile was one.
Tubbs (8-1) struck out two and walked two while spacing out six hits.
Limited to three hits in Game 1, the Panthers broke out for half of their 10 hits through the first two innings of Sunday’s encounter. Coley went 3-for-3 with a triple, two singles, a walk and two runs scored. Brooks and Hough furnished two singles apiece, Rugg and Risinger doubled and Sheets singled.
Audirsch went 2-for-3 for the ninth-seeded Knights (20-17), Hawthorne doubled and Garmany, Howard and Tyler Lee singled.
Howard went five innings in a losing cause for North Webster, with Lee spinning two innings of scoreless relief.
Notes: Sterlington carries a season-high 14-game winning streak into the semifinals. … Rugg doubled midway up the left field wall in his final at bat at Panther Park. … Hough made the game’s best defensive play. Despite getting a late break on a foul popup to the right side, the junior catcher slid into the brick backstop and held on for the second out of the fifth inning. … North Webster’s fan base traveled well for the game, filling the grass area to the right side of the press box as well as the visitors bleachers.