Panthers hold off late rally from Welland

The Kitchener Panthers improve to 8-3 on the IBL season

By: Mark Pare

With a young team, even a successful one, there's going to be some growing pains.

But it's how a team mitigates some of those errors that count the most.

The Kitchener Panthers offense was on full display once again, but the Welland Jackfish made a game of it Sunday afternoon at Jack Couch Park, a game that finished 14-11 for the home side.

The Panthers were up six runs heading into the top of the ninth, but a throwing error by first baseman Drey Sloat trying to start a double play helped the Jackfish stay alive and score a couple of runs.

"If we make the play at second base, the inning's totally different," said Panthers field manager Don Menard, "They don't score the two runs, they don't score those three runs."

"You got to get everybody in the game when you're up by that much, so you play some young kids, you play some juniors, guys got to get their innings, and just little things happen."

Sloat was in for Liam Wilson, who already had a great day at the dish, hitting three singles and two RBI, but more on him in a second.

David Bruinsma struggled a bit in the ninth, but despite loading the bases and bringing the tying run to the plate, he was able to get the game-ending strikeout.

But it's not to say these blips are happening often, and costing the team games.

Because they're not.

The Panthers are second in the IBL with 104 runs, and have hit double digits in runs scored in three of the last four games.

Wilson has been the leader on offense, the only IBL hitter with a batting average above .500 (he's at .513), and Sunday was no different, extending his multi-hit game streak to five games.

He has a hit in every game this season, minus the season opener in London on July 17.

Even though Wilson is tied for second in the league in home runs (four), it's his --- and the team's --- small ball game that is shining the most.

Even Blake Jacklin, who is the team's number nine hitter, came into the day with a .500 batting average with 15 hits, nine for singles.

As a team, the Panthers have a .312 batting average and a .426 on-base percentage, both tops in the league.

"We're getting on base a lot," Menard said, "We're getting a lot of walks, we're having some real good at bats, and then we're getting some clutch hits early, which then can help the pitchers settle down a little bit."

"That's key, you want to get up in front 'cause then you make the other team play from behind and chase you."

It's also key, knowing other teams in the league can have the power to rally, like Welland demonstrated on Sunday.

"When you have to, even if you're up five to seven runs, sometimes you have to bunt, you might have to keep stealing because in this ballpark, not every lead's safe in Jack Couch," Menard said, "Or Toronto, as you've seen because we've played in Toronto and the ball flies a lot."

"You gotta keep just pounding them, and we've had some good at bats and guys are doing well."

On the mound, Stephen Gade made his second start of the year for the Panthers.  He gave up five runs on seven hits in five innings of work.  He struck out three and walked one.

The University of Waterloo product would've went longer, if not for a blister so Menard took precaution so this blister doesn't become a bigger problem.

But Gade had the support he needed to collect his first win of the season.

Ryley Davenport, Keegan Marsden and Jett Jarvis had multi-hit games of their own.  Both Davenport and Marsden drove in a run, while Jarvis had a team-leading three RBI.

"I'm happy overall.  Our hitting's been fine, and our pitching will be fine.  We're still getting our feet wet, (today's) only our 11th game," said Menard.

"Some others have played 14, but I want everybody to pitch and play, I want to try and play as many players as I can at the same time so get (the mistakes) out now and they won't happen in the playoffs then."

Welland got two home runs from Matt Hilderbrandt, while Dane Tofteland went four-for-four with a homer of his own.

Austin Oulds took the loss for the Jackfish, giving up seven runs (four earned) on six hits and walked three batters in 1.2 innings of work.

The Panthers won't have time to rest, with seven games in six days this week.

They'll visit Hamilton and Brantford on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively, before returning home to face Hamilton Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

After that, it's a day of rest before two straight doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday, both at Jack Couch Park.

The Toronto Maple Leafs visit Saturday, while the Barrie Baycats will make their first visit to Kitchener since winning the 2019 IBL Championship on Sunday.