KITCHENER – With little over two weeks left in the regular season, the Kitchener Panthers are breathing down the necks of two rivals and in no mood to let some shaky pitching ruin their plans.
Hosting the Hamilton Cardinals on a hot and sticky night at Jack Couch Park, the Panthers blew the barn doors off with their bats, swatting 20 hits and four home runs in an 18-9 victory.
Hamilton wasn’t exactly quiet at the plate, either, blasting 17 hits of their own, including three home runs – but were ultimately outslugged by the Panthers. The win puts the Panthers within a half game of third-place London and just a game behind second-place Barrie in the Intercounty Baseball League.
Veteran starter Adam Echlin looked in trouble in the first inning, giving up four straight hard-hit singles. But he limited the damage to one run by inducing a double play to shortstop Mike Glinka that got him out of the jam.
In the bottom of the first, Hamilton starter Tim Black plunked Jeff Pietraszko in the helmet, a mistake that put two aboard with one out. But a force-out of Pietraszko at second on a single by Mitch Delaney and a pop up by Tanner Nivins ended the inning.
After Echlin gave up a solo home run to Johnathan Solazzo to lead off the second, the Panthers squandered a chance to dig out of a two-run hole in their half. Brian Burton got aboard with a searing single, stole second and was advanced to third by Rick Murray – but Kitchener’s hitters couldn’t bring him home.
The Cardinals, who came into Jack Couch Park five games back of Kitchener in the standings, continued to hit Echlin hard – scoring another two runs in the third on a homer by Zack Ranta.
After struggling to cash in base runners in the first two innings, the Panthers finally responded with three runs of their own in the bottom of the third, on the strength of a two-run homer by Tanner Nivins – who hit for the cycle – and a wall-smacking double by Mitch Delaney.
Leadoff man Keith Kandel tied it up in the fourth, stroking a single to centre that drove in Rick Murray, who got aboard on a leadoff walk. Kandel showed off his speed when centerfielder Andris Rizquez bobbled the ball, allowing him to get all the way to third.
Shortstop Mike Glinka, who had three hits on the night, put the Panthers ahead by slapping a single that drove in Kandel. The Panthers continued their assault in the bottom of the fifth, breaking open for another three runs and chasing Black from the game.
Echlin, who leaned on three double plays to bail himself out, pitched six innings and left in line for the win, having given up 12 hits and four runs.
Hamilton Reliever Benson Merritt loaded the bases in the sixth, giving up a leadoff double to Nivins – his second on the night – plus singles to Mat Taube and Burton. A walk to Murray handed the Panthers their ninth run.
Kitchener kept piling on, adding five more runs in the inning, until Kyle Adoranti came in to finally stop the bleeding in the bat-around inning.
Matt Vickers came on in the seventh inning and gave up four runs, including a two-run shot by Daniel Jagdeo, pulling the Cardinals within six. Shaun Slemko came in relieve Vickers and was stung for another run on an error by Villalobos at second.
The Panthers tacked on another three runs in the bottom of the eight on a homer by Burton to go up 18-9.
Kitchener’s closer Bryon Bell came on in the ninth and gave up a lead-off single but induced a double play and a strikeout to end the game.
The Panthers’ next home game is Thursday, July 25 at 7:30 p.m. against London.