DEWAR – Fifth-ranked Am-Po run-ruled host Dewar 10-0 Friday night at Wiley Ryal Field to claim the regional championship and send the Panthers to state for the first tine since the 2006 season, when most of this year’s crop were in junior high.
After sitting around for what seemed to be an eternity as the Dragons and Preston battled for close to four hours in a 20-19 marathon, the Panthers finally got on the field for the 6 p.m. championship game around 8:15. They were done in less than 90 minutes, laying eight runs on the Dragons in their first at-bat and cruising behind a no-hitter from senior righty Levi Garrett.
“That’s what we try to do every game we play,” head coach Cheyenne Graham said. “Don’t give away any bats, make them throw strikes and when they do, don’t miss.
“We weren’t looking for the big inning in our first at-bat. We were hoping for a run or two then move on and build from there. But we were able to put together five or six straight hits and that was that.”
Graham wasn’t positive who would get the start, with Garrett, Zach Friesen and Chase Johnson available. Friesen and Johnson both got wins Thursday but still had enough innings left available to go, but the senior told his coach that his arm felt great and he wanted the ball. His determination got it for him.
“He’s been throwing so well lately and he asked me for the ball starting last night,” his coach said. “He had that look in his eye tonight and that was enough for me.”
“I’m feeling pretty good right now,” an exhausted and excited Garrett said. “I just had a feeling about tonight.”
His arm was good enough for seven strikeouts, pitching ahead all game and making Dewar hit his pitches. The defense did the rest.
“I was a little nervous but everybody helped making plays for me,” Garrett said about his biggest win.
The Panthers dog-piled him after Friesen grabbed Laramie Keim’s infield pop-up to end it and the party was on.
“It was bad that last inning but when I saw Zach get that pop-up for the last out I was really happy,” Garrett added.
Only two hitters reached – one in the top of the first on Dylan Upshaw’s sharply-hit one-hopper to Friesen at second that was ruled an error when the ball went off his webbing on a backhand attempt and a two-out walk to Russ Britt in the third.
After surviving the 20-19 win and burning much of their pitching, Dewar was spent and Amber went in wanting to shut them down and score early to break their spirit.
They did, sending up 13 hitters and dropping eight runs on them in the home first on four hits (three of them doubles to the wall) and three errors as the Dragons stared to unravel quickly.
Starter Dalton McCarroll, Dewar’s freshest arm, lasted eight batters before they had no choice but to go to their Upshaw, their ace.
Upshaw had just thrown over 150 pitches in four innings but Dewar had no other options and Am-Po took full advantage, smelling blood in the water.
Shortstop Josh Jackson and Friesen worked walks to set the table for catcher Zach Warner, who started the first-frame string with an RBI single. An error on DH Kyler Nichols’ drive to right, 1B Mike Sloan’s double, an infield boot on CF Chance Green’s hot grounder and back to back RBI doubles by RF Jeff Jackson and 3B Johnson chased McCarroll.
Upshaw gave up two more walks and Warner’s sacrifice fly to center got Am-Po their eighth run before Nichols fanned to end the inning.
Green’s RBI single in the second got them run number nine and Josh Jackson scored on a wild pitch in the third to extend to double digits.
“This is one of the few times I can honestly say -- nothing,” Graham said, laughing. “This is overwhelming. I’m so happy for these guys.
“We started summer ball in May and started talking about this very thing and the chance that we might, just could get there. We got the opportunity and they made the most of it.”
As of press time, OSSAA had not released the state brackets, but it is expected that the Panthers will open with sixth-ranked Okarche.