NORTH VERNON — Early walks and late errors doomed host Jennings County and helped boost Columbus East to an 8-1 baseball victory Saturday afternoon in the final round of the Hoosier Hills Conference Tournament.
The Panthers’ shaky play only added insult to injury as they faced a defensive-steady East squad, which was paced by pitcher Peyton Gray. The junior hurler limited Jennings County (12-8) to just three hits and five overall base runners, while striking out six as the Olympians (15-7) finished 2-1 overall in tourney play for a fifth-place finish.
“East has a good baseball team,” Panthers coach Gabe Lowman said. “And (Gray) is a very good pitcher, but I was definitely not pleased with the way we played today.”
The disappointment for Lowman began early after the Olympians scored two unearned runs, courtesy of walks issued to Ben Harpring and Sam Claycamp. With two outs, East junior Jordan Johnson then drilled a double to deep center to plate both runners.
Those two scores proved to be all the Olympians would actually need as Gray was in full control over the Panthers, who scored their only tally in the bottom of the first inning. East also backed up Gray with stellar defense, committing just one error.
“We played well today,” Olympians coach Jonathan Gratz said. “It was nice to give Peyton some runs.”
Starting Jennings County pitcher Sam Miller also issued lead-off walks in the third and fourth innings, getting burned again in the latter inning after Cam Curry drove in William Anderson with the team’s third run of the contest.
Curry finished the contest perfect at the plate, going 4-for-4 and scoring twice to go along with his RBI.
Johnson also had multiple hits for East, adding a key run-scoring single in the sixth inning, where the Panthers completely fell apart by allowing three hits and a walk along with two errors, all with two outs.
Curry started off the big inning for the visitors with a single and moved to second after Brian Wichman’s infield grounder was overthrown. Harpring followed with a single to drive in Curry, and East loaded the bags after Christian Wichman was intentionally walked.
Claycamp’s looping hit to left appeared to be caught in left field, but fell out of the player’s glove, allowing the Olympians to plate two more scores. Johnson then delivered his hit before the Panthers finally closed the door.
“I’m not for sure if we lost our focus, but we cannot play like the way we played today,” Lowman said. “This was a turning point game for us where we can either continue to play poorly or start executing and playing positive.”
The Olympians finished with 10 hits, but only had four in the first five innings. They scored their final run in the top of the seventh after Curry ripped another two-out single and scored moments later following a double by Yates Burkhart.
The Panthers put two runners on base in each of the fourth and sixth innings, but left all four stranded.
“We’ve got four games coming up this week,” Gratz said. “This game was good, but we still have a lot of room for improvement before sectional.”