Senior Pierce Mitchum belted a three-run bomb, ace Andrew Bradshaw tossed a one-hitter, and the Heber Springs Panthers advanced to Thursday's district semifinals in Southside with an 8-1 win over the Riverview Raiders, securing a spot in next week's regionals in the process.
Heber Springs (19-5) run-ruled Riverview (9-9), 10-0, in consecutive games during a double-header in late March, but the Panthers would need all seven innings in a must-win game against the Raiders on Monday.
In a win or go home scenario, Bradshaw threw six innings, racking up 11 strikeouts and allowing only one baserunner on a single.
“So much of baseball is mental and psychological,” said Heber head coach Jeff Bise. “I think when they saw me roll Bradshaw out there, according to my catcher [Sam Lee], he said they were just up there grunting and grinding, wishing the game would end, because they didn't want to see Bradshaw.”
In the bottom of the second inning, sophomore Nicholas Chaney battled through a long at-bat and helped put the Panthers on the board first, bringing home junior Seth Jenkins after earning a walk with no outs and the bases loaded. Jenkins had led off the inning with a walk of his own, junior Jacob Bremmon singled to right field, and junior Brandon Loethen was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
During his at-bat, Loethen, Heber's starting catcher, attempted a bunt, took a pitch off the hand, and broke a knuckle. After the game, Bise received a text stating the injury would require surgery.
Lee, typically the starting shortstop, was behind the plate on Monday, moving Mitchum, usually at center-field, to his spot in the infield. In a win over Bald Knob last week, freshman Fate Berry started at catcher.
When Mitchum takes the mound to pitch, Berry will likely get the start for the Panthers.
“That's going to throw another monkey wrench into the plans,” said Bise. “Fate Berry is probably going to have to step up and do a heck of a job for us behind the plate, and he's going to have to catch in some big games for us. We have some hurdles ahead.”
Riverview managed to escape the second inning with only one run allowed, but the Panthers eventually gave Bradshaw solid run-support in the bottom of the fourth, when senior Jordan Adkins singled to center field, senior Sam Lee walked, and leadoff-hitter Carter Kelley was tagged by a pitch to load the bases.
With two outs and the bases loaded, junior Jacob Blasingame chopped a grounder to the infield, and the ball squirted past the Riverview shortstop, bringing home two Heber runs on an error.
Batting in the three hole, Heber senior and Arkansas State pledge Pierce Mitchum crushed a three-run bomb over the left-field fence for his ninth home run of the season and a 6-0 Heber Springs lead.
“That three-run shot was huge,” said Bise. “Blaz [Blasingame] had come in before that and drove in two, which was really big. Earlier in the game, we had the bases loaded and nobody out and we scored one run out of that deal. I was really wanting to go for the jugular then. We had some opportunities, but we didn't cash in on them, but that's why you play seven innings.”
Chaney closed out the scoring in the bottom of the fifth inning, cracking a deep, two-RBI double off the center-field wall to score Bremmon and senior Jordan Adkins.
Bremmon finished the game 3-for-4 with three singles and three stolen bases. Chaney was 1-for-2 with three RBIs on a double and a walk.
The Panthers allowed their lone run in the bottom of the seventh inning after senior Clayton Cox came on in relief of Bradshaw.
With the 8-1 win, Heber Springs guaranteed itself a spot at next week's regionals in Trumann. The rest of the district tournament will determine the Panthers' seeding.
Heber Springs will return to Southside tomorrow to play the winner of Baptist Prep/Lonoke in the district semifinals at 6:30 p.m.