By Zach Womble for Main Street Preps
WHITE HOUSE — “Rankings don’t matter.”
Blake Barker didn’t hold back when asked about the Panthers’ top ranking for Class 3A following White House’s 5-0 win against the previously unbeaten Portland Panthers (7-1).
Facing a 2-2 count, Barker’s double to left field scored two Blue Devil runners to help secure a 6-3 start to the 2022 baseball season.
“I refused to let him beat me,” Barker said of his mindset at the plate. “There was no way I was letting him get that third strike past me — either he was going to hit me, or I would get on base with a hit.”
Portland starting pitcher Luke Newton was pulled after giving up a walk to start the sixth inning, then relief pitcher Jake Ausbrooks surrendered a walk putting two Blue Devil runners on with no outs.
White House knew it was in good shape following a well-executed bunt from Blake Anderson that loaded the bases.
“We’ve been like this the last several games; start slow, then work our way through it,” White House head coach Seth Long said. “The first time through the lineup, we are trying to figure it out, then we are a little better by the third time. I knew we would score; the question was could we keep them from scoring. Everyone did their jobs tonight.”
Leading 2-0, White House connected on a double from Tyler Carpenter to centerfield, scoring Barker and Anderson for the 4-0 advantage. White House tacked one insurance run on a single from Zane Brown to score Carpenter.
“It certainly helps to get five runs in the bottom of the sixth,” Brown said of his mentality to close out the game in the top of the seventh.
Brown struck out the side to finish with seven in three complete innings.
“I got a feel for it early and continued,” Brown said. “My stuff was working tonight.”
Not to be outdone, starting pitcher Caden Blackford ( 4IP, 8ks, 3H) endured a rough first inning, throwing 25 pitches to start, but his confidence grew after getting out of a first inning jam.
“Tonight was a rough start, but the team boosted my confidence, telling me to let the bad stuff go and focus on the positive,” he said. “I had a few issues with my fastball, but I knew I could depend on my curveball, and that’s what I did.”
The Portland bats connected early, putting themselves in a great position to score early, but they never scratched one through no matter how close the Panthers would get to home plate.
“It boosted my confidence once I saw we could get them out no matter the situation,” Blackford said. “We wanted to make them earn their runs.”
The difference between winning and losing is the seven runners left in scoring position.
“Someone has to come out with a hit in those situations so we can build on it,” Portland head coach Scott Steinbrecher said. “Credit to White House for the win and making plays in the end, but the first three innings killed us.”
The Blue Devils and Panthers will battle again on Tuesday, March 29, for the regular season’s second and final district outing.
“Hey, great job getting the first win, but it’s go time on Tuesday,” Long said. “We’ve got to get locked in fast because I know they will be ready to play.”
Portland came through to win the second game 3-2 on Tuesday, evening both teams record in the district at 1-1.
Photos by Brett Berwager