Josh Brown, Record staff
KITCHENER - The big bats that carried the Kitchener Panthers throughout the season were silenced, and because of it, the Intercounty Baseball League club is out of the playoffs.
The Panthers' season ended in the semifinals this past Saturday with a 3-0 loss to the Barrie Baycats at Coates Stadium.
The shutout completed a surprising one-sided sweep for the 'Cats, who came into the best-of-seven series as slight underdogs.
"It's never enjoyable to not be playing in the finals or be able to celebrate at the end," said Kitchener general manager Scott Ballantyne, whose club was bounced by Barrie in the IBL finals last season.
"It just seemed like every time we made a mistake that they jumped all over us and capitalized on it. I think that was really the difference."
The Panthers were the highest scoring team in the IBL this season with 349 runs in 37 games or 9.4 runs per game. That was 45 more runs than Barrie, who finished second overall in the eight team league.
The hot hitting crew upped the pace in the first round of the playoffs by plating 11.5 runs per contest in a four-game sweep of the Hamilton Cardinals before enduring a power outage against Barrie.
Kitchener managed just six runs in the four games as the Baycats pitching staff neutralized the Panthers' sluggers.
"We certainly were a well-oiled machine offensively all season," said Ballantyne. "I don't know if it was a case of our hitting sort of going cold as much as it was their pitching just being that good."
The defending champs barely had to use their bullpen due to some stellar starts.
Barrie hurler Emilis Guerrero was especially lethal as he stymied the Panthers and picked up wins to open and close the series. The Dominican manned the mound for all but one inning in two starts while limiting Kitchener to just four hits while fanning 18 batters.
Game 2 saw starter Adam Rowe shutout the Panthers by scattering seven hits over nine innings in a 2-0 victory.
The 'Cats even had an answer in Game 3 after Kitchener found its stroke and scored five runs by doubling their opponents for the win.
Despite the abrupt exit, it was a memorable campaign for the Panthers.
The team went 27-9 during the regular season and tied for first place with the London Majors before being slotted second after losing a year-end tiebreaking game to their Forest City foes.
Veteran infielder Sean Reilly also broke IBL records when he passed Kevin Hinton for most career hits and former Panther Randy Curran for most career home runs.
Outfielder Tanner Nivins is in the running for most valuable player after posting a .432 average (second in IBL), 17 dingers (first) and 40 runs batted in (seventh).
And the team also made a splash by recruiting a trio of Cubans in pitchers Noelvis Entenza and Ian Rendon and catcher Frank Camilo Morejon. All three have indicated that they would like to return.
"When you think of the reaction the last couple of days everyone feels like it wasn't as successful as we would have liked," said Ballantyne. "But when everybody takes a real step back we would say that there have been a lot of good things this year."
Barrie will get a chance to defend its IBL crown against the winner of the other semifinal between London and the Toronto Maple Leafs.