Baseball: Panthers throttle Baldwin-Woodville in season opener
HAGER CITY - The long wait to play this spring didn't impact Ellsworth's Isaac Hines Tuesday at home against Baldwin-Woodville.
Hines was spot on as the Panthers' starting pitcher, striking out five of the first six batters he faced and throwing a five-inning shutout as Ellsworth defeated the Blackhawks 10-0 in five innings at Brown Sports Complex.
"(Hines) set the tone by throwing strikes," Panthers' head coach Steve Block said. "He's all about hitting spots and throwing strikes, he's not going to overpower anybody; we got to play defense when he's pitching."
Hines threw just 60 pitches in Tuesday's game, allowing two base hits and no walks while striking out five.
"He's just got nerves of steel," Block said. "Last year, he threw a 50-pitch no-hitter against Lake City. He throws to contact which is really the key for him. He's one of those guys, no outside distractions affect him. It's him and the glove."
"My fastball was working really well," Hines added. "I was just hitting the strike zone. I was excited to be out there."
On the other side, Baldwin-Woodville's Al Clemens struggled to find strikes during his entire outing. Clemens walked the leadoff hitter, Dan Giese, to start the game and issued five free passes in two-plus innings of work. But his defense didn't help him, committing seven errors including three errors in the third inning that allowed six runs to score.
"Our first-game approach I thought was pretty good," Block said. "We swung at some high pitches but that's what happens in the first game. They booted it, that didn't surprise me, I just wanted to make sure we played our game and I thought we did."
Ellsworth got things started in the first inning as Giese walked to lead off the bottom of the first inning and stole second. With one out and runners on first and third base later in the inning, Giese and Tyler Marson scored as Marson executed an early steal play of second base that caused Clemens to hurry his throw. The ball flew into centerfield and Marson never stopped running until he hit home plate for a 2-0 lead.
"You can't feel sorry for the other team because I've seen it turn around where all the sudden you're booting the ball, especially early in the year," Block said. "I thought we needed to take advantage of it and set the tone because we want to be a reasonably aggressive team this year. We have to pick our spots but that's part of our game. We have some good speed on the ball club. We need to put some pressure on and be willing to get thrown out sometimes."
Clemens walked Chandler Flynn to start the bottom of the second inning and Hines slapped an infield single on a hit-and-run to put runners on first and third with no outs. After a fly out, Giese put down a bunt to score Flynn and move up the runner to second base. In the ensuing at-bat, Nick Taranto knocked in a run on a double for a 4-0 Panthers' lead.
Flynn was 1-for-1 with two runs scored to lead Ellsworth.
Baldwin-Woodville picked up its first hit with two outs in the third inning but stranded the runner at first base.
The Panthers put the game out of reach in the third inning as James Georgakas led off with a single and Ellsworth loaded the bases with no outs leading 6-0. After a pitching change and two strikeouts, Dennis Schutz came to bat with the bases loaded and two outs. He hit a short fly ball that fell in front of the right fielder to score a run but in an attempt to throw out a runner at third base, the Blackhawks threw the ball into left field and Schutz came all the way around to score for a 10-0 lead.
"He's explosive," Block said of Schutz. "He can really move and he's very aggressive. There's no holding him back, it's a 'Bull in a china shop,' as we used to say."
Baldwin-Woodville threatened to score with a runner on third base in the fifth inning but Hines got a groundout to shortstop to end the game.
With the Panthers making the Division 2 championship game last season and bringing back a solid core of players from that team, Tuesday's win was a good way to start after more than a month of practicing indoors due to bad weather.
"Everybody was really excited and just glad to be out there," Hines said. "It was really good, a good confidence builder."
Ellsworth is scheduled to play again Thursday at home against New Richmond, weather permitting.