Panthers down Rockets, win regional title

by Greg Ceilley
of The Review staff


JOE STEINHARDT, Plymouth sophomore, cracks a two-run single in the first inning to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead in Wednesday’s regional baseball finals versus Cedar Grove. – Review photo by Greg Ceilley JOE STEINHARDT, Plymouth sophomore, cracks a two-run single in the first inning to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead in Wednesday’s regional baseball finals versus Cedar Grove. – Review photo by Greg Ceilley PLYMOUTH – Clutch hitting and Ben Picard’s strong relief performance propelled the Plymouth Panthers to a 5-2 win over Cedar Grove-Belgium in the regional baseball finals here Wednesday evening.

The No. 2-seeded Panthers, who earned a first-round bye, hiked their record to 23-6. The No. 7-seeded Rockets finished 12-13.

Picard pitched 5-1/3 scoreless innings after coming on in the top of the second inning after the Rockets had scored twice to tie the game at 2-2. The Panthers scored all of their runs with two outs.

“We had some timely hits, ran the bases well and our defense was solid. Ben came in and shut the door. I thought he did a tremendous job,” said Panther head coach Butch Cain.


BEN PICARD of Plymouth unleashes a pitch to a Cedar Grove batter in Wednesday’s regional baseball finals. Picard’s strong relief performance helped key the Panthers’ 5-2 win. – Review photo by Greg Ceilley BEN PICARD of Plymouth unleashes a pitch to a Cedar Grove batter in Wednesday’s regional baseball finals. Picard’s strong relief performance helped key the Panthers’ 5-2 win. – Review photo by Greg Ceilley “Our primary goal is to win conference, play your best ball [at the end of the season] and go deep into the regional and sectional, and hopefully get that local invitation to state,” said Cain.

“We really gathered around each other and played as a unit,” said Jake Steinhardt, the Panthers’ only senior and also a four-year varsity player.

“It’s always a goal to go as far as we can [in the playoffs]. Ben pitched really well and let the defense do the work.”

Picard, who earned the win, allowed only two hits, struck out five and walked three. Cain credited catcher Will Birkholz with calling a good game for the PHS pitchers.

“I came in and threw strikes, and just wanted my defense to work,” said Picard.

“Their guys like to hit fastballs, so I tried to throw a lot of off-speed [pitches] early in the count, and then hit them with high fastballs at the end of the count. I kept them off balance.”

Jack Nytes started on the mound for PHS and ran into trouble in the second after throwing a scoreless first. He walked two batters with one out. Bryce Morgan’s infield single with two away loaded the bases.

Matt Dirkse and Josh Weiss then drew back-to-back walks which forced in two runs and tied the game, 2-2. Picard then relieved Nytes and retired the next batter, Jason Von Heimburg, on a fly ball in which right fielder Matt Pohl made a diving catch which ended the frame as Cedar Grove left the bases loaded.

Picard also escaped a jam in the fourth. After the first two batters were retired Matt Dirkse walked and Weiss followed with an infield single. Picard hit the next batter, Von Heimburg, which loaded the bases. Picard then fanned Dirkse on a called third strike on a well-located pitch on the corner.

The Panthers grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first on Joe Steinhardt’s two-out, two-run single which drove in Jake Steinhardt and Taylor Struve who had singled earlier, with Struve and Jake Steinhardt both stealing second.

PHS added two runs in the second to go ahead 4-2. Struve’s infield single plated the first run and then Birkholz was plunked with a pitch which forced in a run. The Panthers drew three walks in the frame.

The Panthers made it 5-2 in rhe sixth when Picard delivered an RBI single.

“Jack did really well to start and then that hot, humid weather kind of got to him and that ball was a little slippery, so he was struggling a little bit. He had trouble gripping the ball [because he was sweating a lot],” said Cain.

“I thought it was a very good game. We definitely had our chances to score. We had multiple base runners in three different innings and just couldn’t get the big hit,” said Rocket head coach Tom Race.

“Ben Picard’s relief performance was the difference. We just couldn’t seem to figure him out.”

Von Heimburg started and took the loss. The junior allowed four runs (all earned) on six hits with three walks and one hit batter in five innings.


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