The Panthers hung on to defeat the Highland Cougars 7-5 on Wednesday to advance to the Class 3, District 7 championship.

Jory Maddox took off from third base, sprinting toward home, simultaneously with a Highland pitch during the sixth inning of Palmyra’s Class 3, District 7 semifinal victory Wednesday.

His head coach, Mark Loman, was the most surprised person in the ballpark.

Maddox thought the squeeze play was on with the Panthers looking for an insurance run to pad its one-run lead. The problem was, he had misread the sign.

Luckily for Palmyra, the ball got past the catcher, and Maddox crossed home plate standing up to make it 7-5. That proved to be the final score.

“The baseball gods were on our side there because it worked out,” Loman said.

Until that point, the Panthers’ had been sitting on a big lead it jumped out to with a 34-minute, first-inning outburst. The score was 3-1 in favor of Palmyra when Ben Cheffey scored on a groundout to the shortstop.

Later, Jacob Kroeger hit an RBI double to score teammate A.J. O’Brien. 

By the end of the first, Palmyra was up 6-1. 

O’Brien did it all Wednesday for the Panthers. On top of going 2-for-3 at the plate, he got the start for the Panthers and threw 95 pitches over 4 1/3 innings to keep his team ahead from the first inning on. 

The hurler struck out six and only allowed one earned run, though he allowed a total of five because of six fielding errors behind him.

“(O’Brien’s) a bulldog type guy,” Loman said. “He’s going to battle. He’s not going to do anything flashy. He’s just going to go out and try to pump strikes.”

The Cougars clawed back into the contest, at one point coming within one run at 6-5. In the fifth, Logan Scholl entered the game in relief after O’Brien let a runner on. Unfazed by the magnitude of the moment, Scholl thwarted the scoring chance.

“I probably felt more pressure than our kids did,” Loman said. “We hung in there.”

The insurance run in the sixth became crucial in the seventh, when Tyler
Damron closed out the contest. Two Highland runners reached based, and the Palmyra fans were becoming a bit uneasy with two outs still needed. 

Both runners, though, were left stranded, contributing to the total of 10 runners the Cougars left on base throughout the win-or-go-home contest.

“It’s always nail biting, but that’s the baseball you want to play — those close, tight games,” O’Brien said. 

After securing the final out, the Panthers gathered outside of the third base dugout to celebrate with handshakes and high-fives.

There’s not much time, though, for celebration.

The Panthers will face Bowling Green at 2 p.m. on Thursday at Flower City Park for the district championship.

“We live to see another day,” O’Brien said.