Carolina Forest scored double-digit runs against Class AAAA opponents twice during the regular season.
The Panthers – with their pitching and defense mantra – have now done it in back-to-back games at the most important time of the year.
Jack Jolly’s team beat White Knoll 10-5 on Saturday in the opening game of the Lower State playoffs. That result came just two days after the Panthers took down Lexington 10-3 in the winner-take-all district championship game.
“It definitely feels different,” second baseman Joey Lewandowski said. “Winning a game by five runs, that’s something we haven’t done a lot this year. Pitching is always going to give us a chance to win. Normally, if we score five runs, we’re going to win ballgames. That’s what we go by. That’s our motto. Scoring 10, we’re not complaining about it.”
Much like the Lexington win, Saturday’s over White Knoll started with an early deficit. And just like Thursday, Carolina Forest rebounded quickly to go in front and then kept pouring it on to stay there.
After the Timberwolves used two base hits and a sacrifice fly to go up 1-0 in the top of the first, the Panthers scored three times in the second on Patrick Orlando’s infield single and then Lewandowski’s two-RBI base hit. The offensive production continued in the third, when Carolina Forest batted around. Caleb Lindaberry started off the rally with an infield hit and Lewandowski’s hard-hit ball to third ended up in the outfield and pushed two more across.
The Panthers then added three runs in the fifth – the bulk of which came off Ryan Gold’s two-run hit to the right-field wall.
“I would really like to be saying that we win with pitching and defense,” Jolly said. “When that doesn’t happen, I’m glad the bats show up and we found a way to win.”
It was necessary Saturday, given that starting pitcher Jakob Frishmuth didn’t have his best game and Carolina Forest had two uncharacteristic errors. The Timberwolves batted around in the top of the fourth to close the gap to 7-5.
The Panthers’ offense, however, scored those three in the next inning.
“It was a little of a gut check to get beat by Lexington and have our back against the wall,” Lewandowski said. “I think we came back from that game and put it on them. In this game, we hit a couple balls hard and were fortunate to put them in the right place.”
Some of the scoring, Jolly admitted, may also be a direct result of the cushion the Panthers had built for themselves via a regular-season title, winning the first two games of the postseason and then receiving the boost of the pre-determined home game to open the Lower State tournament.
Ensuring that all isn’t wasted has continued to pay dividends. Carolina Forest will have yet another postseason home game on Monday when it plays host to the winner of West Florence-Summerville (played late Saturday).
Win that game – be it with the previous defensive approach or the newfound proficiency with the sticks – and the Panthers can again take a few days off while they prepare for another home game in the Lower State finals.
“Every year I’ve been in the playoffs, a lot of times it’s not the best team, it’s the team that gets the best draw or gets to face the third or fourth pitcher or has the home-field advantage,” Jolly said. “We hope to continue to play our best baseball. But hopefully we can take advantage of being at home or facing a team that has already thrown their ace.”
▪ W - Jakob Frishmuth. L - Brandon Tomayo. Top hitters - WK: Caleb Grubbs 2-2, HR, 2 BB, RBI, 2 Runs; Thomas Scott 2-4, Run. CF: Joey Lewandowski 2-3, BB, 4 RBI; Patrick Orlando 3-3, 2 RBI, 2 Runs; Caleb Lindaberry 2-3, RBI, 2 Runs.
▪ Records: White Knoll 21-7; Carolina Forest 22-6.