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Daily Journal
     April 14, 2022      #78-104 KDJ

Manteno baseball, softball bounce back to split

By Mason Schweizer

MANTENO — One of the most unique and charming characteristics about baseball and softball is how often the opportunity arises to come right back after a loss with the chance to win the very next day, particularly against the same team.

When Manteno welcomed Coal City to town in both baseball and softball Tuesday, less than 24 hours removed from the Coalers winning in both sports Monday, the Panthers bounced back to earn series-splitting victories in the Illinois Central Eight Conference on both diamonds.

5-run 5th frees things up for Manteno baseball

In Monday’s 9-1 loss at Coal City, the Manteno baseball team saw a handful of errors in the sixth inning turn into eight unearned runs in the frame, highlighted by an Ashton Harvey grand slam. But Tuesday, it was the Panthers who rallied late, plating five runs in the bottom of the fifth in their 8-2 victory.

Manteno coach Matt Beckner said he felt a little deja vu Monday, as their late-game woes were reminiscent of the 2021 IHSA Class 2A Sectional semifinals that saw the Coalers score four unearned runs as part of a late-game rally for a 10-9 win, and said he was glad to avoid that again Tuesday.

“When you look back at the sectional game last year and how that inning and game went, and then to battle with them yesterday and give up eight unearned runs in the sixth inning, it felt like we saw that before,” Beckner said. “So, it was nice to avenge our loss from yesterday.”

The Panthers wasted no time getting on the board, forcing Coalers starter Caden Kuder to hurl more than 35 first-inning pitches with several deep at-bats that ultimately led to a three-run frame, thanks to an RBI single from Nathan Bajic and a two-run double from Mason Senholtz.

Coal City clawed back in it with an RBI single off the bat of Carter Garrelts in the second and closed the gap even more when Kaelan Natyshok scored on an error in the fourth.

Coalers coach Greg Wills credited Kuder for being able to buckle down after his lengthy first inning, as he was able to work into the fifth inning despite some early signs of rust after recent rainouts have thrown off his throwing schedule.

“He was a little rusty early, but he settled in and threw really well for us,” Wills said. “We think he’s a big arm for us and someone we’re going to count on down the stretch.”

The Panthers chased Kuder in that fifth inning, which saw them put ducks on the pond when Bryce Vorwald was hit by a pitch and advanced to third on Bajic’s double.

Vorwald scored when Grant De Rose reached on an error, and Bajic scored a batter later on a Matt Gaffney double. After De Rose crossed the plate on a Trey Malone walk, Gaffney was granted home after a questionable balk call on Coalers reliever Braden Reilly, and Senholtz scored on a wild pitch before Reilly recorded a strikeout to end the inning.

“It doesn’t take long for things to get away from you when a couple things don’t go your way,” Wills said. “Braden came in and did OK; he just had a couple bad breaks, looked up and it was 8-2.

“But that’s a good ballclub over there, and if you make a few mistakes they’re going to make you pay.”

Panthers starter Jace Nikonchuk had all the run support he needed in the first inning, as he settled in early to allow two unearned runs on four hits and five strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings in front of a defense that cut down from five errors Monday to two Tuesday.

“[Nikonchuk] kept the ball low, challenged hitters, mixed pitches when he had to and defensively, we made plays we have to make,” Beckner said. “That’s been our Achilles heel maybe the past few years but definitely this year.

“We fielded ground balls we had to field, made plays we had to make and Jace didn’t beat himself. He competed today, and I’m very proud of him.”

Manteno softball gets defensive

Defensive woes also plagued the Panthers softball team in the first half of the season series with the Coalers, as four Manteno errors led to two unearned runs in Monday’s 5-4 loss.

But on Tuesday, right fielder Ava Pequette made a huge defensive statement early when she caught a fly-out and then gunned Makayla Henline at home for a momentous double play, giving pitcher Alyssa Dralle plenty of support in the field and at the plate in Tuesday’s 10-0 win in six innings.

“Alyssa pitched really well [Monday]; we just let her down defensively, and it’s tough to give a team that can hit and score like [the Coalers] can extra outs,” Panthers coach Josh Carlile said. “She pitched equally well tonight, but our defense was much better.”

As the Panthers defended behind Dralle, who allowed just two hits and a walk in her shutout victory, the bats came to life as well.

Drew Hosselton slugged a two-run double that helped spark a four-run first inning and added the walk-off RBI with a bloop single that scored Pequette and ended the game via the 10-run rule.

Hosselton led the Panthers’ offense from the seven-spot in the lineup, proof to Carlile that, similar to the Coalers, the Manteno lineup is long and dangerous.

“We’re both similar lineups, where it doesn’t matter if it’s the one, four, seven or nine-hitter, they can all play,” Carlile said. “We’re running a rotation at this point because every girl is a good softball player.”

Carlile saw similarities in the talent levels between both teams Tuesday, but Coal City coach Rodney Monbrum noted not only was there a ton of talent on the field but young talent at that, as both teams boast underclassmen up and down the lineups.

And while the talent side of that equation was on display for the Coalers Monday evening, Tuesday brought out more of the youthful side of a team that started six underclassmen.

“We knocked off a really good team [Monday], and we expect that and to compete every day, but we’re a young team,” Monbrum said. “That’s not an excuse, but through 10 games, we’re 4-6, and we’ve either played perfectly [flawlessly] or [brutally] — nothing in between.

“We’ll have that with a young team, but we’ll have to find that happy medium.”

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