POTOSI – Facing several of his high school teammates, left-handed pitcher Noah Skaggs was within one strike of completing five shutout innings for the Park Hills Panthers on Sunday.
But control of the MABA Senior Babe Ruth League shifted dramatically with the help of three defensive errors as the Potosi Elks put seven straight batters on base and erased a six-run deficit in minutes.
Seven runs eventually crossed the plate with two outs, and the Elks survived a final scare in the seventh inning to prevail 7-6 in game one of a championship clinching doubleheader sweep.
Winning relief pitcher Tristan Brown finished 2-for-3 with a triple, and Austin Earnest was 2-for-3 with a double as Potosi was outhit 7-6 in triumph.
The Panthers lost a runner on the base paths in each of the first three innings before building a 6-0 lead, then had a golden chance to atone for its previous defensive meltdown in the seventh.
Brown issued three walks to load the bases with one out. But Lane Mercille caught Colton Jennings and Brandon Richardson looking at third strikes to escape the inherited mess and earn the save.
Park Hills grabbed a 1-0 advantage when Brayden Manion broke from third base and beat the return throw on a strikeout in the dirt following his leadoff double and Drew Jaco’s single against Earnest.
The teams then combined for 12 runs in a crazy fifth inning. Two scored on a hit by Ryne Scherffius, who later crossed on a successful double steal, and Keenan Johnson’s 2-RBI double made it 6-0.
Mercille coaxed a 9-pitch walk to begin the Elks’ home half of the fifth, but Skaggs retired the next two batters ahead of a 2-out free pass to Colby Eckhoff.
A throwing error allowed Mercille to trot home as Eckhoff stole second, but Skaggs issued another walk to Brown after Eckhoff stole home on a lackadaisical throw from catcher Scott Miller to the mound.
Three straight singles by Dylan Coleman, Earnest and Ethan Nixon ensued, and a bases-loaded walk from Manion to Jacob Coleman forced in another run and brought Potosi within 6-4.
The comeback concluded when Mercille lifted a fly ball to right field that was circled and dropped by usual infielder Jayden Weible, allowing three runs to score for the decisive lead change.
Park Hills managed to cut down Eckhoff at the plate on Brown’s triple in the bottom of the sixth, but failed to capitalize on its final at-bats and carried that frustration into the second game.
Miller finished 2-for-2 and Pierce Daniels contributed a single and walk for the Panthers in the opener.
The Elks punctuated their league title in game 2 after exploding for 10 runs in the second inning and notching 17 hits overall in an 18-4 rout.
Brown went 3-for-4 including a sacrifice fly, and Austin Heflin reached base four straight times from the No. 9 spot in the Potosi order, ending up 2-for-2 with three RBI and three runs scored.
Dylan Coleman had a game-high four RBI, and matched Nixon by each going 3-for-5. Eckhoff threw all five innings for the win, and added two singles with three runs scored at the dish.
The Elks were officially the visiting team at their home field, and put the contest away emphatically after each team notched two runs in the opening frame.
Manion returned to the mound for the Panthers after finishing game 1, but would not record an out in the second inning. Park Hills would ultimately employ four relievers.
Dylan Coleman broke the 2-all tie with a 2-run single before Earnest and Nixon added RBI hits. Heflin contributed a key 2-RBI single as Potosi sent 14 men to the plate.
Six more tallies in the third pushed the margin to 16-2 with a couple of tough-hop infield singles mixed in. Zach Price singled home a teammate before Coleman’s long triple drove in another.
Eckhoff allowed four runs on five hits and struck out four in the complete game, while Park Hills pitching was responsible for six hit batsmen.
Johnson collected two RBI for the Panthers on a single and sacrifice fly. Jaco tripled and scored in the first inning after Dylan Kater grounded a leadoff hit, and Skaggs had a double in the fifth.
The Panthers fell to third place in the league standings behind the Leadwood Pirates. The BRL state tournament begins next week in Charleston.