Dan Polischuk, Special to the Record
KITCHENER - The Kitchener Panthers experienced a case of déjà vu on Monday night as they hosted the London Majors at Jack Couch Park.
Not even two complete innings into the ballgame, the Panthers found themselves trailing 4-0 as the Majors opened the scoring. But unlike the previous evening, Kitchener would end up turning the tables in an eventual 7-5 win.
With spot starter Eric Hall (3-1) making just his third start of the season, the lead-off batter in the second, Brett Sabourin, found himself in scoring position after a throwing error to first and a wild pitch. Kenta Nichi would send a high chopper into right field to score the designated hitter soon thereafter.
The control issues continued for Hall in the early going as he hit the very next batter, Argenis Vargas, and then promptly served up a three-run home run to third baseman Mike Ambrose – his fourth of the season.
The first-year Panther would settle down nicely after that ugly second frame though to piece together a tidy six innings pitched, giving up as many hits while striking out four.
Centrefielder Tanner Nivins admitted after the game that “when we were down 4-0, I think it went through a few of our heads like, ‘Oh no, it’s going to happen again.’”
“We were a lot more relaxed than yesterday,” Nivins said, adding that, “There was a lot more on the line, so we just came out … and had fun.”
The similarities to the previous night’s game would continue as Darnell Duckett was the only run scored for the Panthers in that affair and was, once again, the first Kitchener player to cross home plate on a Mike Glinka RBI groundout in the bottom of the third.
Sean Reilly would follow that up with a solo blast over the left field wall, his 17th home run of the year, to cut the deficit in half at 4-2.
“Once we scored a couple of runs to make it a close game again, we treated it as a playoff game. We’re going to be in those battles where we could be down 4-0 … and just have to keep digging,” explained Nivins.
The Panthers would emulate that grind-it-out mentality as they come all the way back to tie the game in the next frame, with Tanner Nivins and the aforementioned Reilly delivering RBI singles to make it a 4-4 scoreline.
Kitchener would keep rolling offensively in the fifth, taking a two- run lead on back-to-back RBI singles by Duckett and Nivins.
The streak of unanswered runs was paused until the bottom of the eighth inning when Ryan Douse lined another RBI single up the middle, scoring David Whiteside.
A tag team effort by the bullpen, in the form of Mike Schnurr and Phil Owen, locked down the victory - with the latter recording his third save of the year.
Expanding on Hall’s effort to stay in the ballgame, Nivins had plenty of praise for one of the team’s newest additions.
“He doesn’t get too many starts and he could’ve easily just folded it in but he dug. He’s the reason we win that game.
“It was great to see. We’d love to see that from him in the playoffs too.”
Owen’s description of a cohesive unit may have played a big factor in the effort as well.
“We had a chat today. We’re a real tight-knit group and our policy was to not just be known as an offensive team; have the pitchers and defence come out and show we can be a really well-rounded team,” he said.
“The last couple weeks or so, we feel like that’s been slipping a bit, a couple too many errors, too many walks, so we really tried to clean it up today.”
The Panthers have two games remaining in the regular season, as they will hit the road to visit Guelph and Brantford tomorrow and Wednesday night, respectively. Both are 7:30pm start times.