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Panthers put 41-year curse to bed

Panthers put 41-year curse to bed
Panthers put 41-year curse to bed
Corydon Central's only senior, Zach Anderson, hoists the PanthersÂ’ first baseball sectional trophy in 41 years after Corydon Central defeated Silver Creek, 6-5, last Tuesday. Photos by Wade Bell (click for larger version)

Like two boxers going at it for the heavyweight title, the Corydon Central Panthers and Silver Creek Dragons slugged back and forth for seven innings in the Class 3A Mitchell baseball sectional final last Tuesday night.
For the Panthers, it had been a 41-year drought without a sectional championship that coach Zach Sipes and the Corydon Central players wanted to put an end.
‘Every day, when we have an indoor practice because of the rain, we always go into the main gym and we look up at the banner and we see one conference championship in ’68-69,’ said Sipes. ‘We see the one sectional in ’68-69. At the beginning of the season, this team had it set out that they were going to make history.’
Not only did the team make history, but it did it in a game that will go down as a classic, with a 6-5 win over the Dragons.
The Panthers had to play from behind most of the season, but, in the final, Corydon Central played with the lead versus Silver Creek. Lucas Windell led off the game with a single then was moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Jake Carnley. Windell stole third, but a Mitchell errant throw allowed Windell to go home and give the Panthers a 1-0 lead.
‘We knew Silver Creek wasn’t going to go away,’ Sipes said.
It didn’t take long for the Dragons to bounce back. Jacob Armstrong led off with a solo home run, quickly tying the game at 1.
Corydon Central’s only senior, Zach Anderson, was on the mound for the Panthers, and said he wasn’t going to let the homer break his concentration.
‘I knew we weren’t done because the same thing happened with Crawford County,’ he said. ‘I came in and with the first pitch with bases loaded, after Chase was struggling, they hit a grand slam. I just have a lot of confidence even when I do get hit hard.’
The Panthers backed up their pitcher with four runs in the top of the second. Anderson walked and, with one out, Logan Hodges singled. Jake Carnley later doubled to score two runs. Jeremiah Windell followed with another double to score Carnley. It didn’t stop there, as Cody Arnold singled to score Windell, giving the Panthers a 5-1 cushion.
‘We kept working on our offense, offense, offense and that really put us at a disadvantage with our defense,’ said Sipes. ‘One through nine, we have been knocking the cover off the ball and it showed tonight, in the sectional and all the way throughout.’
Silver Creek gave a shot to the body with two runs in the second. With two outs, Jake Snyder laid down a bunt single. Armstrong, J.D. Ehringer and Kyle Briner then slapped three straight singles as the gap was closed to 5-3.
In the top of the fourth, Hodges walked, then Carnley singled with one out. Jeremiah Windell singled next to score Hodges, and the Panther lead upped to 6-3.
The Dragons, however, were not about to throw in the towel. In the bottom of the fifth, with one out, Briner singled. Another Corydon Central error allowed Tyler Schroeder to reach safely on a bunt. Corydon Central then muffed a pick-off attempt, allowing Briner to score. Sturgeon followed that with a single to score Schroeder, and the gap was suddenly closed to one, 6-5.
‘All year long we have battled from behind, and today we were in the lead and we had to hold on to it,’ Sipes said. ‘We had one bad inning, but we were able to hold it together and at least keep a one-run lead.’
Both teams failed to score in their next at-bats. Then came the final round, the bottom of the seventh, where things got even more interesting.
Corydon Central freshman Chase Burton had come to the mound in the top of the sixth and struck out two. With one out in the seventh, Burton walked two batters, placing the possible winning run at first. The freshman’s next two pitches to Sturgeon then went for balls, one of those going by catcher Tyler Shewmaker which allowed Briner and Schroeder to advance to second and third, respectively.
Sipes quickly went to the mound to talk to his young pitcher. After returning to the dugout, Sipes asked the umpire the count and then intentionally passed Sturgeon to first, loading the bases.
‘They had runners on second and third with their No. 5 hitter, Sturgeon, up,’ said Sipes. ‘He’s an excellent hitter. The winning run is on second, so we wanted our defense to relax and have a play at any base.’
Silver Creek then made its biggest mistake of the night. With Layne Taylor running for Briner, the Dragons went for the suicide squeeze to tie the game. Taylor got caught in a rundown but made it safely back to third base. What he didn’t know was that Schroeder was also on third making Taylor out on the play.
‘The minute that kid missed that squeeze, it made it a whole lot better,’ said Burton. ‘Then, getting the easy out, it kind of went crazy from there.’
The easy out came when Burton struck out Matt Hawn to end the game, giving the Panthers their first sectional championship in 41 years.
‘I wish it was a game like this the whole year,’ said Burton, his voice cracking with emotion. ‘I didn’t think I was going to pitch varsity at the beginning of the year, but it’s been a good year for me. It’s just crazy.’
Anderson said he was just speechless.
‘I don’t even know what to say,’ he said. ‘Those guys stepped up and played a role just like I did. It’s like they’re seniors right there with me. They’re all leaders as well. We just wanted it bad … It’s sweet and there’s nothing like it. I’ve never felt better.’
Corydon finished with nine hits for the game. Cody Arnold, Jake Carnley and Jeremiah Windell had two each. The Panthers left four runners on base and had three errors. Anderson and Burton struck out three each. Burton walked three, and Anderson hit one batter.
‘Chase, he’s a freshman and he’s 8-0,’ said Sipes. ‘He struggled in the first game against Mitchell. We brought him right back, and he struggled the second game. Zach (Anderson’s) been pitching well, so we started him. I told Chase, ‘I know you’ve been struggling, but we haven’t lost confidence in you’.’
Silver Creek finished with eight hits, with Kyle Briner going 3 for 3 and Jacob Armstrong getting two hits.
‘We know Silver Creek is an excellent team,’ Sipes said. ‘They’re well coached and have a lot of great players.’
‘Today, it was just like a boxing match and we were lucky enough to throw the last punch,’ he said. ‘They put themselves in a chance to win, and they did it.’