An early season showdown between two of the area's stronger small school baseball teams took place on Tuesday night when the South Ridge Panthers slipped by the Carlton Bulldogs 4-3 in Culver.
"Both teams threw very well," said South Ridge coach Tyler Olin. "At any level, especially Class A, you need to throw strikes and limit walks and both sides did a nice job of that."
After going 21-7 last season, the win against Carlton improved the Panthers record this season to 4-0 following a Panthers 5-2 win over Chisholm Monday night.
Riley Kinsley and Matt Clark both scored in the second inning Tuesday to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead. With two outs, Kinsley walked and Clark singled and both eventually scored on a Logan Young base hit. The Panthers pushed the lead to 3-0 in the bottom of third with another two-out rally when Christian Houle walked and then went to second when Vinny Wood also walked. Houle scored on a base hit from Joe Janke as South Ridge appeared ready to pull away to an easy victory.
"We have to learn how to close out innings," said Carlton coach Ryan Schmidt. "Twice we had two outs, and twice we gave up runs. If we could have finished those innings, who knows how things would have played out."
The Bulldogs nixed the easy victory idea when they responded with a single tally in the top of the fourth as Evan Gray reached on an error and eventually scored on a base hit by Sam Macor. Carlton tied the game up in the top of the fifth when Chase Parker and Tyler Ojibway picked up back-to-back walks and were advanced by sophomore Peyton Schmidt — the only girl on the team — with both runners eventually scoring to tie the game 3-3.
"It was nice to see our kids bounce back after falling behind," said Coach Schmidt (who is also Peyton's dad). "This game was a good measuring stick for us against a good team."
South Ridge finally took the lead in the bottom of the sixth when Nick Carlson reached on an error and with two outs scored on a base hit by Mark Lisic to make the score 4-3 in favor of the Panthers.
Carlton threatened to even things up in the top of the seventh with a couple of walks, but the Panthers were able to get a pop-up to shortstop to end the game and take their fourth straight win to begin the season.
"It was a good early season high school game," said Schmidt following the game. "Both teams pitched well and that made for a close game."
Lisic started the game for the Panthers on the mound and pitched well, as did Carlton starter Evan Gray. Lisic went 4-2/3 innings and gave up just one hit, three runs and two earned runs, while Gray gave up five hits and three earned runs. Houle picked up the win by going the final 2-1/3 innings for the Panthers and Jackson Mickle took the loss for the Bulldogs but still pitched well.
"We are confident in the players and pieces we have," Olin said. "I've seen some great things only four games into the season. But, I've also seen some things we will need to be better at and improve, especially if we want to compete with the Elys and Deer Rivers of the section. It should be fun to see how the rest of the regular season and then playoffs play out!"
Young led the Panthers on offense with a pair of hits in a 2-for-3 effort at the plate.
One of the big plays of the game came on defense for the Panthers with the game knotted up at 2-2, when Elias Tuominen fielded a ground ball off the bag at third and threw a runner out at first that kept the game alive allowing for the Panthers to eventually take the win.
"That was a big play," said Olin. "With two outs, late in the game and the go-ahead run in scoring position, it turned out to be a big play in the game for us."
Next up for the Panthers will be a Thursday game at McGregor-Cromwell-Wright, while Carlton will play at Barnum on Tuesday.