Granby " Panther baseball team connects with a 2-0 start to season |

Granby " Panther baseball team connects with a 2-0 start to season

Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News
ALL | Sky-Hi Daily News

In one of its best-ever starts, Middle Park High’s varsity baseball team won both of its first games of the 2008 season.

The Panther ballplayers beat Weld Central 4-3 in the season opener at Greeley last Saturday, March 8. With the momentum from that win, they went on to whip Denver Lutheran 9-6 on Tuesday.

“We’re 2-0. It’s been a long time since we could say that,” said coach James Newberry. “We’re definitely a much improved team this season.”

In Saturday’s season-opener against Weld Central, the game got off to a slow start with neither team hitting the ball, but that changed at the top of the fourth inning when Panther lead-off batter Mike Zieff blasted a double into the outfield. He then advanced to third base on a single by Brian Moore. A sacrifice bunt by Justen Strang allowed Moore to make it to second.

With Zieff and Moore at second and third bases, Chad Sprague came in as a pinch hitter, but his attempted bunt fell short and was quickly snagged by Weld Central’s catcher.

But luck was with the Panthers. The catcher’s throw to first base went wild with the ball flying into right field. Capitalizing on that error, Zieff and Moore sprinted across homeplate as Sprague raced to second base. The Panthers followed it up with a third run when Joey Coucke drove in Sprague with a single.

At the bottom of the fourth inning, Weld Central was able to pick up an unearned run of its own on a Middle Park throwing error, but the Panthers negated it with one of their own at the top of the fifth inning. Sutton got to first on a walk, advanced to second and then sprinted to third on a sacrifice bunt by Zieff. He finally scored off an RBI single hit by Moore.

When Weld Central came to bat in the final inning, they quickly scored two runs, but Middle Park’s defense ended their rally with three final outs.

For the team’s pitching in its first game, Zieff went five innings, giving up one run, seven hits and two walks while striking out five batters. Moore went one inning, giving up two runs and three hits while make one strikeout.

“This was some outstanding pitching for a first game,” Newberry said. “Zieff got the win and Moore got the save. We made the solid defensive plays that we needed to make. And we had only two errors. It was good to start off the season with a win.”

On Tuesday, the Panthers’ bats really came alive in their 9-6 victory over Lutheran’s Lights.

“We came off the bus swinging with our lead-off batters Ian Sutton and Mike Zieff both hitting singles,” Newberry said. “They both advanced on steals and then Brian Moore hit a sacrifice fly to left field that drove in Sutton to score our first run.”

The Lights retaliated at the bottom of the first inning by scoring a single run, but that 1-1 tie did not last long. At the top of the second inning, Morrow and Strang both singled. Sprague then stepped to the plate and blasted a three-run homer over the outfield fence to put Middle Park back into the lead.

In the third inning, the Panther batters got hot again. Mike Stefanski began by singling and then stealing second. Morrow then earned the RBI with a single that drove Stefanski in to score. That was followed by Strang belting a triple into left centerfield to drive in Morrow.

“We now had a 6-1 lead and were feeling pretty good about ourselves,” Newberry said. “That’s usually when the bottom falls out.”

At the bottom of the third inning, the Lights quickly shook the Panthers out of their complacency by racking up five runs that tied up the score 6-6.

The tie was spectacularly broken at the top of the sixth inning. With Moore on first base on a walk, Stefanski stepped to the plate and blasted the ball not only over the outfield fence but well beyond the city street on the other side.

“It was a towering home run, a real neckbender,” Newberry said.

Then just for insurance in the seventh inning, Middle Park put the game away with one more run. Stefanski doubled and then was driven home on another double by Sprague.

Newberry praised the team’s defense, particularly for an “unconventional doubleplay” in the fifth inning that prevented Lutheran from scoring one or more runs. A quick throw from Stefanski in right field resulted in shortstop Morrow tagging out a runner at second base and then throwing the ball to Strang, the catcher, who tagged out another Lutheran runner at home plate.

“What made it so impressive was the communication and fundamental throwing in a tough game situation,” Newberry said. “This would not have happened last year. The improvement in our team cohesiveness and skills is paying off.”

P.J. Cross, the Panthers’ starting pitcher, went 5-1/3 innings while giving up six runs, five hits and one walk while making five strikeouts. Zieff came in to close, pitching 1-2/3 innings and striking out three of Lutheran’s four batters in the seventh inning.

“We hit the ball a lot better against Lutheran, but we still struck out 12 times,” Newberry said. “That’s something we need to focus on in our next game.”

The Panthers will be the Denver Christian Crusaders this Saturday in a doubleheader. The games are slated for 10 a.m. and noon.

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