Two weeks ago, Palmyra baseball coach Mark Loman was not pleased with the way the Panthers were playing defensively. Close losses to Clark County and Macon were aided by six Palmyra errors.
Now the defense is the catalyst for the Panthers, which won for the sixth straight time Tuesday with a 5-2 win over Highland at Flower City Park.
And it was a defensive play by the Panthers that may have saved the game.
Trailing 5-2, Highland brought the tying run to the plate with no outs. Derek Howes ripped a one-hop liner down the third base line, which looked to be a sure extra base hit.
Caden Power had a different idea.
The Panthers third baseman spun on a knee to snag the liner and beat the runner from second to the bag at third.
Highland would end up leaving the bases loaded, as Nolan Wosman recorded the final out with his third punchout of the game while earning a two-inning save.
“Caden made a big play which could have changed things there at the end,” Loman said of the defensive play of the game. “That was huge.”
While the Panthers played a near-flawless game in the field, Highland could not do the same. The Cougars committed five errors in the game that led to three unearned runs.
Three of the errors came in the pivotal fourth inning.
After the visitors grabbed a 2-1 lead in the top half of the inning, Brock Malone started the Panthers rally with a one-out single. Gabe Goodwin reached on an error, which sent Malone to third. Jory Maddox then executed a perfect suicide squeeze to tie the game. Maddox reached first on a throwing error.
Mason Scholl, who entered as pinch runner for Goodwin, scored what turned out to be the game-winning run when Jacob Kroeger reached on an errant throw after a dropped third strike.
“A lot times when you put the ball in play like we did tonight, it puts pressure on their defense and it can get things started,” Loman explained. “We did a nice job of putting the pressure on them all game and we were able to take advantage of their mistakes.”
Peyton Plunkett and Kroeger gave the Panthers some breathing room in the fifth and sixth innings.
Plunkett extended the Palmyra lead to 4-2 with an RBI double in the fifth. Kroeger put the final tally on the board with a long solo home run in the sixth.
Hayden Hoerr tossed the first five innings to earn the win for the Panthers.
The southpaw allowed just two hits, walked three and fanned four batters.
“He struggled a bit with his command on all three of his pitches, but he pitched just fine,” Loman noted. “He really battled tonight.”
Hoerr mentioned he knew he really had to buckle down in the fourth inning, when he walked the first two batters.
“I just knew I had to bounce back,” the sophomore hurler said. “My defense played good behind me, and I knew I just had to throw strikes and let them help me.”
Maddox and Kroeger finished with a pair of hits apiece as the Panthers outhit Highland, 9-3.
Wosman added a triple in the win.
The Panthers (10-3) hit the road to face Quincy on Wednesday.
“We are on a good run right now and hopefully we can keep it going tomorrow night,” Hoerr said.
Palmyra 5, Highland 2
Highland 000 200 0 -- 2 3 5
Palmyra 001 211 X -- 5 9 1
HIGHLAND (5-5) -- Chad Smith (L), Tucker Olsen (6) and Derek Howes. 2B -- William Leeser.
PALMYRA (10-3) -- Hayden Hoerr (W), Nolan Wosman (6, S) and Brady Barnett. Top hitters -- Jacob Kroeger 2-for-4; Jory Maddox 2-for-3. 2B -- Peyton Plunkett. 3B -- Wosman, Maddox. HR -- Kroeger.