When it came to the key moment Thursday in Jennings County’s 5-4 victory against host Columbus East, it was the Panthers who took advantage.
That pretty much was the difference in the game.
The Olympians had chances to put away Jennings County early, and didn’t. When the Panthers’ big at-bat arrived in the Hoosier Hills Conference game, Harrison Funke delivered.
Funke slapped a rare three-run single to right field, capping a four-run, sixth-inning rally that gave the Panthers their come-from-behind win — their second of the season.
Although Funke’s single wasn’t hit very hard, it came on a 3-2 count with two outs and the bases loaded. That allowed Jennings County’s Conner Byram to get a huge jump from first base as East pitcher Takahiro Yamada went into the windup. Byram was halfway to second by the time Funke made contact and Jennings County head coach Gabe Lowman, working the third base coaching box, waved Bryam around as he sped toward third. He easily scored with the throw from right being cut off.
“I saw them taking off,” Funke said of his teammates, Byram, Lane Staples and Sam Morris, who were on base. “I just needed to hit the ball the other way (to right field). I needed to do what was best for the team.”
What was best for Jennings County was a win. The Panthers are 2-5.
“We’ve been struggling,” Funke said. “But we are working hard. I think we’re starting to show our hard work.”
It was a frustrating loss for for East, which dropped to 8-4.
The Olympians trailed 5-4 going into the bottom of the sixth but picked up a pair of one-out singles from Brock Greiwe and Cam Curry against Jennings County reliever Funke. Yamada then hit a one-hop shot that Jennings County shortstop Ethan Jarvis fielded and turned into a double play.
In the seventh, Lowman went to his ace Caleb Eder, who gave up a lead-off single to East’s Nick Andrie. However, Andrie was thrown out trying to steal second and Eder retired the next two batters to close the deal.
Although East built a 4-1 lead with two in the first and one in the fourth and fifth innings, the Olympians missed opportunities to add to their lead.
East had four hits in the first inning, including a triple by Yamada, but only scored twice. East had three hits in the fourth, including doubles by Sam Claycamp and Connor Roberts, but only scored once.
To Jennings County’s credit, it took a great defensive play to get out of the inning. Curry smoked an apparent extra-base hit to center, but Panthers’ center fielder Staples made a great catch for the third out.
The Olympians scored once in the fifth, but had a single, a hit-batter and a walk and couldn’t parlay it into more runs.
On defense, East’s pitchers were always needing to work out of trouble. Jennings County put the lead-off hitter on base in five of the seven innings.
East coach Jonathan Gratz was to the point after the game.
“You’ve got to hit the ball,” Gratz said. “We had the chance, and we didn’t put the game away. You have to take advantage of those opportunities.”
Gratz wasn’t pleased, either, with the opportunities his pitchers provided, including six walks and a hit-batter.
“That’s way too many walks,” Gratz said. “You’re playing with fire.”