BY DEAN HOCKNEY
PLYMOUTH, Ind. – There is a reason the IHSAA defending state champion Western Panthers were ranked No. 1 in the pre-season Class 3A baseball coaches poll – they are good. They also have skilled pitching and a knack to win. And after two come-from-behind performances to win the Plymouth Regional for the second consecutive season, no one is doubting that early ranking.
“I am very proud of this ball club,” Western head coach Ty Calloway told WIOU Sports Director Chris Lowry. “I have been preaching for a very long time that you play 21 out games, and we used them all today.”
In a rematch of the 2012 regional title game, the Panthers (23-5) knocked off Griffith 6-5 in eight innings to advance to the North Semi-State and another Final Four appearance. Ronnie Smith, fresh off his sectional championship win on Wednesday night, picked up the win in relief of Cameron Kuntz. The University of Alabama at Birmingham recruit fired the final 6 1/3 innings, giving up one run and one hit while striking out six.
“If you are going to get Ronnie, you have to get him in the first or second inning,” said Calloway. “From the third inning on, you aren’t going to hit him. I don’t know why that is, but when he gets going he is very good.”
But despite the great pitching, the Panthers still trailed 5-3 going into the seventh inning. Following walks to Dakota LaMott and Devon Eaker, Cameron Herr singled to score LaMott and Austin Weaver hit a grounder that scored Eaker to tie the game. In the eighth, Mitchell Shahan singled, went to second on a wild pitch and scored on a Marcus Pingleton single. Smith then retired the side in the bottom of the inning to secure the regional championship win.
In the opener, the Panthers downed South Bend Saint Joseph in sensational fashion – a grand slam walk off home run by Kuntz, who also picked up the win in relief. Kuntz picked a grand time to hit his first varsity home run, which scored Eaker, Herr and Weaver.
Due to the wet weather last weekend, Western has to wait to find out who it will play in the semi-state as Plymouth was the only regional to finish play as scheduled. The Panthers will play the winner of the Bellmont Regional, which will finish Tuesday evening. Angola (20-8) played NorthWood (16-7) late Monday night, with the winner scheduled to play No. 3 Norwell (30-3) in the title bout.
The IHSAA will announce Wednesday whether Western will play in the one-game South Bend or Kokomo Semi-State. Coach Calloway has stated he would prefer a trip to South Bend and Coveleski Stadium.