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Panthers roll past Vikings in five innings

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Knightstown batter Bruce Nichols (4) foul-tips a pitch as Blue River Valley catcher Tim Blevins (2) and the home plate umpire watch during Wednesday evening’s high school baseball game at Blue River. Nichols was the hitting star for the visiting Panthers, as he belted a run-scoring triple and a grand-slam home run in Knightstown’s 18-0 victory in five innings over the Vikings.
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Jose Olivo of the Knightstown High School baseball team hurls a pitch toward the plate against a batter from host Blue River Valley during Wednesday evening’s game. Olivo tossed four innings of two-hit shutout baseball, striking out 11 batters and walking none, to become the winning pitcher in the Panthers’ 18-0 win in five innings over the host Vikings.
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Blue River Valley High School baseball player Cole Rushing fires a pitch toward home plate against a Knightstown hitter during Wednesday evening’s baseball game at Blue River. Rushing was the starting, and losing, pitcher in the contest, leaving the mound after two innings with his team down 10-0, but he got one of the Vikings’ two hits on the day, a double in the last of the fourth inning. The visiting Panthers defeated Blue River 18-0 in five innings.

By DAVID RISLEY - drisley@thecouriertimes.com

MOUNT SUMMIT — Mother Nature finally decided to bestow some 60-degree temperatures upon the local area Wednesday evening, and it was a little more pleasant outside than it has been when the Knightstown High School baseball team traveled across the county to face host Blue River Valley.

Both team were coming off games Tuesday, and the Panther bats stayed warm while those of the Vikings remained rather chilly as Knightstown shut out Blue River 18-0 in five innings.

The Panthers improved to 2-0 for the season while the Vikings dropped to 0-2.

“After yesterday’s weather, we’re just happy to be able to come out and play in some sunshine,” Knightstown Coach Daren Hardesty said. “We’ve gotten two wins to start the season, and I was was pleased with how we competed today. We got really good pitching, got to play a lot of guys, and I think almost everyone had some solid at-bats. We kept battling even when we had the big lead and didn’t put it into cruise control.”

Knightstown scored at least one run in every inning and got solid pitching. Panther junior starting hurler Jose Olivo tossed four innings of two-hit baseball, striking out 11 Blue River batters and walking no one. Senior Mason Carmichael came in to mop up in relief and pitched a perfect fifth inning, fanning the final Viking batter to end the game after 1:54 of play.

Olivo was perfect through three innings. The only hits for Blue River came in the bottom of the fourth inning when Tim Blevins led off with a single and Cole Rushing belted a two-out double to left field, putting both runners in scoring position. The next batter struck out on four pitches to end the frame.

The Panther defense didn’t have to field many balls, but was flawless when it did.

“We started the season playing two really good teams,” Blue River Coach Jake Isenbarger said afterward. “We are young with four seniors, one junior, and the rest are sophomores and freshmen. Our pitching is relatively young and inexperienced at the varsity level, and we’re working many of our guys at multiple positions as the season progresses. This is only the fifth time we’ve been outside this year, which hasn’t helped a lot either.”

Rushing, the Vikings’ starting pitcher, was touched for four runs the the top of the first inning, and a fielding error didn’t help things, either.

Knightstown’s Kaleb Buchanan led off the game with an infield hit, stole second base, and scored when Tyler Burton’s ground ball was muffed for an error. Burton took second on the throw-in, went to third on a passed ball, and scored on a double to right centerfield by Owen Wiles.

Wiles took third on Kaunner Cleek’s groundout and scored on a bloop hit to short right centerfield by Olivo. Olivo stole second base, moved to third on Jarred Porter’s groundout, and scored on a triple to centerfield by Bruce Nichols for a 4-0 Panther lead.

Rushing plunked Jack Fort with a pitch but retired the next batter to avoid further damage.

Knightstown plated six more runs in the top of the second inning. With one away, Burton reached on an infield single and advanced to third when Wiles’ fly ball was dropped in the outfield for a two-base error. Burton scored when all hands were safe on Cleek’s fielder’s choice ground ball.

Wiles scored on Olivo’s infield hit and Porter singled to right field to load the sacks. With the wind blowing out, Nichols belted a 2-1 pitch from Cushing over the right centerfield fence for a grand slam home run and 10-0 Panther advantage.

The inning continued as Fort reached on an error and Rushing whiffed the next batter for the second out. Buchanan and Burton walked to fill the bags again, but Wiles’ fly ball to deep centerfield was caught by Blue River centerfielder Damon Felix for the third out, stranding the runners.

Felix came in to pitch for the Vikings in the top of the third inning and induced the first batter to fly to center for the first out. Felix struck out Olivo swinging, but a dropped third strike enabled Olivo to reach first base safely.

Porter singled to right field, and Olivo moved to third base and Porter to second on a wild pitch. Another wild pitch plated Olivo with Porter moving to third base. Felix struck out the next batter on four pitches, but issued consecutive walks to Fort, Caleb Pyle, and Buchanan, the latter driving in Porter, for a 12-0 Knightstown lead.

With the bases still juiced, Felix got Burton to fly out to left field to retire the side.

The Panthers began substituting liberally in their batting order in the top of the fourth inning, and still pushed across more runs. Wiles opened with a walk on a 3-2 pitch from Felix and took second on a wild pitch. The next batter fouled out to first baseman Mason Crisp and Olivo walked on five pitches.

A ball hit by Kyle Mattix was booted for an error, allowing Wiles to score and Olivo to move to third base. Olivo scored on a wild pitch with Mattix moving to second base. Felix fanned the next batter for the second out, and Mattix moved to third base on another wild pitch.

Dakota Locker stepped in and doubled over the centerfielder’s head to drive in Mattix. Matthew Craft walked on four pitches and both runners moved up a base on a single to right field by Carmichael. With the sacks loaded again, Felix walked Levi Back on five pitches to force in Locker with another run.

Samuel Hollingsworth replaced Felix on the mound for the Vikings, hit Connor Brockman with a 1-2 pitch, and Craft crossed the plate to boost the Knightstown lead to 17-0. Hollingsworth then struck out the next batter on a full count to retire the side.

“We have a lot of seniors,” Hardesty added, “and some of our guys are fairly even in ability, so we are able to put a solid lineup out on the field and have a good bench, too. It will be fun to see the competition for starting spots this season. We also have three really good starting pitchers and I’d put our top three up there with almost anyone we play. If we can get three runs each game, I’m confident our pitchers can handle things from their end.”

The Panthers added a run in their final at-bat in the top of the fifth inning. With one away, Hollingsworth plunked Mattix with a pitch. Mattix took second base on a groundout by by Brendan Anderson and scored on another double by Locker, who once again hit the ball over the centerfielder’s head, to make the score 18-0.

Locker moved to third on a single by Craft, but Hollingsworth struck out the next batter for the third out.

“We made a few more errors today than we did yesterday and we see a bit of frustration from our guys when we fall behind by a lot,” Isenbarger added, “but we are trying to build confidence in them, and they are remaining upbeat. They are really working hard with good attitudes, and I think that’s all you can ask for. We’re always striving for improvement, and I believe that we’ll be a much better team a month from now when we play in the county tourney.”

After hosting Irvington Prep Thursday, Knightstown entertains Eastern Hancock today in a game moved up from Saturday because of forecasted bad weather. At press time, Blue River was scheduled to host Wes-Del Saturday.