Panthers hold off Rockets in sectional semis

by Greg Ceilley
of The Review staff

WILL BIRKHOLZ smashes a two-run single for Plymouth in the fifth inning of Monday’s sectional baseball semifinals against Cedar Grove. – Review photo by Greg Ceilley WILL BIRKHOLZ smashes a two-run single for Plymouth in the fifth inning of Monday’s sectional baseball semifinals against Cedar Grove. – Review photo by Greg Ceilley RANDOM LAKE – The Plymouth Panthers erupted for five runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to key a 7-4 win over Cedar Grove-Belgium in a sectional baseball semifinal here Monday afternoon.

The game was knotted at 2-2 going into the last of the fifth. Isaac Fintak led off with a linedrive single and Joe Steinhardt followed with a walk.

Taylor Struve then laced a single to drive in Fintak for the goahead run. Two outs later, Aiden Reilly walked to load the bases for Will Birkholz who ripped a two-run single up the middle which gave PHS a 5-2 lead.

Matt Pohl was hit by a pitch which filled the bases. Ben Picard was also hit by a pitch which forced in a run to make it 6-2. Bradley Katte came on to relieve Rocket starting pitcher Jason Von Heimburg. Fintak greeted Katte by drawing a walk which forced in the seventh run.

The No. 1-seeded Panthers raised their record to 26-6. The No. 4-seeded Rockets ended their season at 15-14.

The Rockets pulled to within 7-4 with two runs in the top of the sixth and almost scored more. Cedar Grove had two runs in and the bases loaded when Jeffrey Emperley hit a sharp grounder which second baseman Holden Reilly made a diving stop and threw to shortstop Joe Steinhardt for the forceout to end the inning.

Cedar Grove didn’t have any hits in the sixth but took advantage of five walks and a wild pitch. Paul Simmelink scored on a wild pitch to make it 7-3. Tyler Kraus’s bases-loaded walk shaved Plymouth’s lead to 7-4.

The Panthers’ defense came through again in the seventh. Relief pitcher Jack Nytes fanned the first batter and then made an outstanding stab on a hard-hit grounder headed up the middle by Cameron Kirst who was thrown out at first by Nytes.

Nytes then walked Mason Noll but retired Simmelink on a ground ball to end the game.

“Overall, a great team victory. The whole team battled,” said senior Holden Reilly who was the winning pitcher.

“Our defense was a major key and we had clutch hitting,” he said.

“It was a battle. Holden really hit his pitches and made some big pitches,” said Birkholz, a junior catcher.

“It feels amazing [getting the two-run single]. I’ve been working really hard [on hitting] the past couple of weeks. It was a major team effort.”

PHS took a 1-0 lead in the first. Steinhardt walked with one out and scored when Taylor Struve belted a double over the center fielder.

The Panthers added a run in the second to go up 2-0. Aiden Reilly ripped a leadoff double down the left-field line, took third on Birkholz’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Pohl’s safety-squeeze bunt.

The Rockets tallied two runs in the fifth to tie the game, 2-2. Emperley made it 2-1 with an RBI single and then scored on a double by Von Heimburg. Von Heimburg was thrown out at third trying to advance on the relay throw home.

Holden Reilly started on the mound and threw 5-2/3 innings. He allowed four runs (three earned) on only three hits with two walks, a hit batter and four strikeouts before departing due to reaching the maximum 100-pitch count.

“Holden really competed well. He had a gutty performance,” said PHS head coach Butch Cain.

Nytes earned a save – pitching the final 1-1/3 innings and giving up no runs on zero hits with two walks and one strikeout.

Struve led PHS in hits with two and shared the RBI lead with Birkholz at two apiece. Aiden Reilly and Steinhardt scored a team-high two runs each.

“It was a good battle. We executed enough to make some plays and we had some timely hits. We made some nice plays, defensively,” said Cain.

Pohl, a right fielder, made an excellent running catch on Kirst’s deep fly ball in the first which saved a run.

“Will executed back there [at catcher]. He’s our leader. He does a good job of stopping [low] pitches],” Cain noted.

Von Heimburg was the Rockets’ starting hurler and took the loss. He gave up seven earned runs on six hits with five walks, one hit batter and two strikeouts in 4-2/3 innings.

Jacob Bohlmann’s single accounted for the Rockets’ other hit.

“They’re [Panthers are] the best team in the league [Big East Conference] and we came with our best game,” said Rocket head coach Tom Race.

PHS won the BEC largeschool division with a 20-2 league record.

“Holden Reilly made probably the play of the game [in the sixth on the grounder by Emperley] and he pitched a helluva game,” said Race.

“We had some nice hits. Their defense made some really good plays. My kids gave everything they had this season. We didn’t quit. We kept working.”

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