ST. GEORGE – Pine View continues to play inspired baseball and the Panthers are now just one victory away from the 3A State championship.
Harrison Goebel allowed just two runs and Pine View hammered out 13 hits Friday evening as the Panthers ran past Cedar 5-2. PV emerges as the only team without a loss in the double-elimination tournament heading into Championship Saturday. The Panthers will play the winner of the 9 a.m. game between high-scoring Snow Canyon and the Redmen. Whichever team emerged will have to beat Pine View twice to take the title.
“I think this team resembles our basketball team, with a lot of unity, a lot of heart,” said Ence, who was a guard on the Panthers state championship hoops team. “I’m excited. I can’t wait to get out on the field and play it.”
It’s been a remarkable turnaround for the Pine View Panthers, who struggled through the first third of the season.
Heading into the last week of March, Pine View was 3-7 and 0-2 in Region 9 and, as Coach Mike Gargano said, a bit of a mess. Now, the 18-8 Panthers are headed to the title game.
“We were down and disappointed in a lot of things,” Gargano said. “There wasn’t any one thing that turned things around. We just simplified things and the guys started playing the way we knew they could.”
Part of Pine View’s change of direction was the increased production from the bottom of the line-up. Ence, who had three hits against the Redmen, even lost his job for a little while. But the senior three-sport star shirked off his mid-season slump and has since been on fire.
“Blake had some struggles, but he’s worked very hard to fix them,” Gargano said. “He has some of the quickest hands and he is a great kid. That bunt that he laid down right at the end to add that insurance run — unbelievable. I love the kid. Unbelievable.”
Having a pair of aces has helped as well, with Goebel and Dakota Donovan reeling off quality start after quality start. Goebel got the call against Cedar and pitched six innings, allowing just two runs and four hits.
“He is a competitor,” Gargano said. “He was definitely a little wild today, but he came back in and still got his outs when we needed it. Every time he is out there he is not going to just let one go and give up on it.”
Brooks Barney, who has become the Panthers closer, pitched the seventh inning, striking out all three batters he faced to get the save. He is a reluctant pitcher and would rather be mashing the ball as a first baseman.
“I’ve been really working hard on my pitching this past year,” Barney said. “I knew I was going to need to pitch well to have this team go deep in the tournament. But yeah, I’d rather be hitting it than pitching it.”
It was a well-played game, as one might expect in a state semifinal, with both teams playing sharp defense. Cedar starter Brecken Lewis, who is the only pitcher to have beaten Pine View during the Panthers two-month long hot streak, was not as sharp as that outing on Apr. 24.
Holding a 1-0 lead, Pine View got to Lewis for two runs in the second inning on four singles, with Donovan reaching with one out, then Barney lacing a two-out single to send Donovan to third. An overthrow on the play allowed Donovan to score and make it a 1-1 game.
Ence singled to put two men on and then Kash Walker lined a shot through the left side to bring Barney home and make it 2-1.
Lewis helped his own cause in the bottom of the third by hitting a home run that landed on top of the 12-foot fence and bounced over, tying the game at 2-2.
A two-out rally in the top of the fourth gave the Panthers a lead they would not surrender. After singling to left, Ence stole second. After a walk, Logan LaFemina hung a clothesline into left field. The speedy Ence never slowed down around third and scored easily.
“I think it’s confidence,” Ence said of his recent surge at the plate. “I’ve been working in the cage a lot. So just getting reps and confidence. It’s all head games in baseball. I just have to get my head right.”
Goebel, who allowed just four hits and two earned runs, repeatedly wriggled out of tough situations. His seven walks and three hit batsmen were erased somewhat by seven strikeouts and three double plays by the Pine View defense. Cedar ended up leaving 12 men on base.
But it was still a nailbiter until a two-run rally by the Panthers in the top of the seventh provided some breathing room. Hunter Hansen singled home Connor Clark to make it 4-2 and then two batters later, Ence surprised everyone with a squeeze bunt that scored Hansen and provided the final 5-2 margin.
Pine View, which had 13 hits in the game, will play for the state championship at 11 a.m. Saturday at Dixie State’s Hurst Field and will face the winner of the Cedar-Snow Canyon 9 a.m. game. The Warriors won two games Friday to make it to Championship Saturday.
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