Ponies clinch spot in Region XIV Playoffs
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With only 4 games remaining in conference play, the Panola Ponies have clinched a spot for the NJCAA Region XIV Baseball Playoffs to be played May 11-14 at Angelina College in Lufkin.
Both the second-place Ponies and the third-place Paris Dragons were swept in double-header action Wednesday, April 17. At 18-8 in conference play, the Ponies are 4.5 games behind the Eastern Zone leading Navarro Bulldogs. The third-place Paris Dragons are 12-12 in conference play, 5 games behind the Ponies. The Bossier Parish Cavaliers clinched the last play-off spot for the Eastern Zone with their sweep of the Ponies.
On Tuesday night, the Ponies split a non-conference double-header with the Meridian, Mississippi Eagles. The games were played at West Monroe High School in Louisiana. Freshman Tyler Stallings pitched the first game for the Ponies and carried a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the final frame. Stallings surrendered a lead-off single but then retired the next two batters before hitting a batter. The Eagles’ next batter crushed a walk-off home run to give the Mississippi boys a 4-3 win.
Despite the loss, Coach Todd Shelton had to be pleased with Stallings, who had not started a game in over a month and had not pitched into the 7th inning since high school. Until the fatal 7th inning, the Mississippi boys had managed to scratch out only 6 hits. Stallings exhibited great command of the strike zone, walking only one batter. If the Ponies are to make a run at the conference championship, Stallings will play a key role.
Hunter Hagler and Greg Martens each had three hits for the Ponies. Hagler hit his 4th home run of the season in the fifth inning.
In the second game, the Eagles jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the top of the first, but the Ponies battled back for an 8-5 win. Hallsville’s Jesse Hanson took the mound in the third inning and was credited with the win, running his record to 2-0. Giovanni Lugo had two hits, including his third home run, and scored three times. Clint Cage had two hits and also scored three runs. Randy Ventura had two hits and two RBI, and Matt Spruill drove in two runs.
The Ponies spent the night in Monroe and traveled to Bossier Wednesday for their doubleheader with the Cavaliers. The first game was another heartbreaker, with Preston Guillory holding the Cavs to two hits until the bottom of the 7th when, for the second day in a row, the Ponies were victimized by a walk-off homer. This time the score was 1-1, the Ponies having scored their only run on Cage’s 5th homer of the year in the top of the 4th. In the bottom of the 7th, Josh Rodriguez led off with a single for the Cavs. Next up, big Jacob Stockton drove Guillory’s second pitch to him over the centerfield wall to give the Cavs a 3-1 win. Hagler and Spruill each had two hits, but the Ponies were unable to sustain a rally despite placing runners on base in 5 of the 7 innings.
In the second game, the Cavs chased starter Kolbe Schufft after three innings to take a 4-1 lead. Robbie Petty relieved Schufft in the 4th but spotted the Cavs three more runs before settling down. The Ponies battled back, but fell short this time, losing 8-6.
Hagler and Ventura had 3 hits each for the Ponies. Lugo, Cage, Spruill, and Preston Manka had two hits each. Hagler and Cage each scored twice.
Saturday, April 20, the Ponies travel to Corsicana to play Navarro College. Panola will complete their conference schedule at home against Paris Jr. College on Wednesday, April 24.