April 7, 2014

Verden comeback wins Panther Classic

Adam Troxtell, Sports Editor,
The Express-Star


Verden baseball heads into a big week for Grady County teams with their tails up after a comeback win in the Panther Classic championship game.

The Tigers took the title Saturday in Amber with a 7-4 victory over Class B No. 1 Lookeba-Sickles. It completed a solid run of three days for Verden just a week out from when they return to the same place for the Grady County Tournament.

"We're finally starting to play the way we're capable of playing," coach Allen Conley said. "We've not been doing that as of late. Our pitching's down a little bit, there's some soreness going on, but we were able to pull it out."

Verden first took the lead with three runs in the bottom of the third, canceling out runs from Lookeba-Sickles' Dylan Brooks. Brooks had been the bane of defenses' existence for most of the tournament. His leadoff single in the third was his seventh-straight hit in as many at bats.

That was ended with a strikeout in the top of the fifth by senior Alex Whitlow. It was one of three for him on the afternoon, along with four walks, two hits and three runs against in five innings. Whitlow stepped onto the mound after Tryston Morgan started but had to exit due to soreness.

"He hasn't pitched a whole lot, but with us being shorthanded, this was his chance to show us what he can do," Conley said about Whitlow. "We know he can do it. He stepped up in a big way, and that's what seniors need to do on a big night."

Aside from his work on the mound, it was Whitlow who helped Verden to their lead. Dusty Keil and Christ Patterson were walked, while leadoff Morgan was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Whitlow's double sent them all across the plate to instantly turn the game around. He went 2-for-4 at the plate with one run that came when Verden took the lead for a second time.

Bryson Lierle and Kyler Hendricks reached on an error and a walk, respectively, in the bottom of the fifth. That set up the tying run from Austin Dahlenburg's sacrifice fly, while Hendricks later crossed home on an errant Verden throw.

The response was four runs off three hits in the fifth. Whitlow singled before designated hitter Colten Hargrove brought him around with another. Hunter Morgan followed up with another RBI-single to tie it up before things went a little haywire.

Hunter Morgan reached home on a wild pitch and Tryston Morgan's walk put Keil across to put Verden out of reach.

"You've got to take advantage of any opportunity you get with errors on the other team," Conley said. "If you can capitalize on it, that's just icing on the cake."

Lookeba-Sickles saw eight runs left stranded on the afternoon. While they had their chances, Conley praised his team's ability to bounce back from mistakes as a sign of growth this season.

"Everything's clicking, and we're not getting down after we make a mistake," he said. "Used to when we'd make a mistake, it would snowball. Now we do it, we just kind of shake it off and make the play the next time around. They're playing good."