Panthers pick up first win of season


File Photo

Jimmy Govern hits a pitch during his at-bat in Eastern’s 15-6 victory over Robet Morris Peoria at Coaches Stadium in April 2018.

Dillan Schorfheide, Assistant Sports Editor

A five-run inning was the extra cherry on top of the Eastern baseball team’s first win of the season, 8-1 Monday, over Western Kentucky.

Eastern (1-5) scored a run in the first and second inning, with the run in the second proving to be the only other one needed for Eastern’s win, as Spenser Dexter pitched a great game on the mound against Western Kentucky (5-2).

Dexter had eight runs of support behind him, but he ended the game with 8.1 innings pitched, nearly getting a complete-game shutout.

Overall, he only gave up four hits and one earned run, with seven strikeouts.

Western Kentucky’s Jake Sanford was the spoiler to Dexter’s forthcoming shutout, when he hit a double to left center to score Davis Sims.

“Spenser has been tremendous the first two games,” said Eastern head coach Jason Anderson. “After shutting down a nationally-ranked team last week, he came back with 8.1 scoreless innings against a 5-1 team.”

Against Arkansas Feb. 17, Dexter got the start and gave up three hits in four innings against Arkansas, with two strikeouts and one earned run.

For most of Monday’s game, though, Eastern’s offense dominantly gave Eastern insurance run after insurance run.

The Panthers are embracing a new offensive style, featuring more focus on getting on base and doing the small things better (like base running), rather than just swinging for home runs.

Against top-25 Arkansas in the opening weekend, Eastern posted four runs per game.

Against Western Kentucky, the Panthers averaged seven runs per game, yet still lost the first two games of the series.

“The offense has been brilliant so far this year,” Anderson said. “We have been able to put a lot of pressure on the opposing team with the new approach, and the numbers have showed up because of it.”

Western Kentucky defeated Eastern in the first game of a doubleheader Sunday 10-9 in 10 innings, and the Hilltoppers beat the Panthers 5-4 in the second game.

But Monday, Eastern’s offensive outburst was not matched.

Matt Mackey hit a double down the left-field line in the first inning to score Keith Kerrigan. Kerrigan led Eastern with three RBIs on the day.

Then, in the second inning, Dane Toppel gave the Panthers the only other run it needed for the win, grounding out to the shortstop but scoring Ryan Knernschield.

Toppel ended the day tied for the second-most RBIs in the game (two) with Mackey.

Four scoreless innings passed before the Panthers struck again, this time with more damage done to Western Kentucky.

Jimmy Huber started the sixth inning with a solo home run to right field, his first of the season.

One out later, Toppel doubled down the left-field line, scoring Knernschield from third base and advancing Grant Emme to third.

Kerrigan was up to bat next, singling up the middle to score both Toppel and Emme, for his first two RBIs of the day.

After a few more Eastern batters got on base, Mackey sacrifice flied out to right center, scoring Kerrigan from third base.

Kerrigan then rounded out the day scoring-wise by singling to right field in the seventh inning, scoring Emme on an unearned run.

In the young season, the Panthers are averaging 5.5 runs per game, while also giving up 7.66 runs per game.

The Panthers are batting .283 as a team and have an 8.36 combined ERA.

“This team really competes hard,” Anderson said. “We came back from behind in three consecutive games before finally pulling away and getting our first win Monday.”

Dillan Schorfheide can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]