Granby " Panther baseball team makes it to sweet 16 in playoffs |

Granby " Panther baseball team makes it to sweet 16 in playoffs

After earning in one of its best regular-season records, Middle Park High’s baseball team battled its way into the second round of the district playoffs before ending its 2008 season.

Competing in the playoff games at Roosevelt High School near Johnstown on Saturday, May 3, the Panthers beat Bennett 5-2 in the first game, but then fell in the second game to Roosevelt in an 11-10 heartbreaker.

Going into the playoffs, the Panthers had posted a 13-5 regular-season record and a 10-6 record in the Metro League. They were ranked fourth as they entered the May 3 playoff games.

“We made it into the Sweet 16 for the state,” said coach James Newberry. “We might have gone further, but it didn’t happen. We can feel very good about how well we did because we had a great season. It was one of the best in our program’s history.”

The May 3 first-round playoff game against Bennett got off to an excellent start for Middle Park’s ballplayers racked up three runs in the first inning.

As he had done all season, Panther senior Ian Sutton began it by belting a double into the outfield and then scoring on another double batted by fellow senior Mike Zieff, who was soon joined on base when Mike Stefanski walked. Then both base runners advanced on a double steal.

With Zieff and Stefanski on second and third bases, P.J. Cross stepped to the plate.

Waiting for the right pitch, he connected for a solid single that drove in both base runners.

“We started hitting right from the first pitch,” Newberry said. “Those three runs were a very good start for us.”

Neither team scored in the second inning, but Bennett narrowed the scoring gap by two runs on Middle Park fielding errors at the top of the third inning.

“Bennett was coming on strong, but Zieff’s pitching at the top of the fourth inning held them,” Newberry said. “He took control of the game. It was a nice pitching job.”

That rock-solid defense allowed Middle Park’s offense to get back on track at the bottom of the fourth inning with a single run. Panther senior Brian Moore walked, stole second base and then sprinted home to score on another double hit into the outfield by Sutton.

At the top of the fifth inning, Zieff did another superb pitching job that shut down Bennett by striking out two batters. He repeated it at the top of the fifth with Bennett’s batters going down 1-2-3.

The Panthers picked up their fifth and final run at the bottom of the sixth inning. Sutton walked, stole second and then made it to third on a past ball. Justen Strang then struck out at the plate, but Bennett’s catcher lost the ball, allowing Sutton to sprint home to score.

“Then at the top of the seventh, Zieff shut them down again and we won,” Newberry said. “During the last four innings, he got them out in order, which was very impressive. During that game, he allowed two unearned runs and five hits while striking out 10 batters and permitting no walks.”

Having polished off the first-round game with a 5-2 victory, the Panthers went into second-round game with high hopes. But Roosevelt was rested and ready for them.

Before Middle Park knew what happened, Roosevelt built up a 5-0 lead in the first three innings, including a solo home run. It was not until the top of the fourth that the Panthers finally answered with three runs of their own.

Middle Park senior Chad Sprague began the fourth-inning rally by scoring on a single batted by Cross. Moore then earned an RBI by singling to drive in Stefanski, who had gotten on base with a walk. Cross, who had advanced to third base on Moore’s single, then sprinted across home plate on a single batted by Strang.

The Panthers’ joy at having cut down Roosevelt’s lead to 5-3 was muted as their opponents picked up two more runs in the bottom of the fourth inning. Things did not improve in the fifth inning as Middle Park’s batters were unable to score.

Finally, at the top of the sixth inning, the Panthers’ bats began to heat up again.

Jordan Reynolds started it with a lead-off double, followed by Cross and Moore, who both walked to load the bases. Then Sutton batted a single that drove in Reynolds, followed by Zieff singling to pick up two RBIs as Cross and Moore sprinted across home plate.

“With the score now 7-6, we were feeling pretty good,” Newberry said. “But at the bottom of the sixth, we gave up four more runs to Roosevelt on walks and errors.”

Trailing Roosevelt 11-6 as they entered the top of the seventh and final inning of regulation play, Middle Park’s batters knew it was their last chance. Rising to the challenge, they made an excellent comeback attempt that fell one run short of tying the score.

With one out, the team’s rally began with Reynolds and Alex Morrow both singling and then advancing on wild pitch. The bases were then loaded after Cross walked.

With one out and the bases loaded, Moore stepped to the plate and blasted the ball over the outfield fence. His grand slam scored four runs and pulled the Panthers to within one run of Roosevelt.

Middle Park had a chance to tie the game after Sutton and Strang got on base, but they were left stranded with the game ending in an 11-10 win for Roosevelt.

“It was one of those games that our guys played as hard as they could,” Newberry said. “We made a couple of costly errors, but our players left everything they had out on that field trying to win it. As a coach, that’s all you can ask of a team.”

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