By REID TUCKER
The second week of March was a good one for the Bobcats, as the team once again established itself as the front-runner in District 1-A baseball with two convincing league wins.
Paxton (5-0) had its first two games of the week rained out but turned in back-to-back-to-back victories from March 13 through 15 the first and last of which were district games against visiting Bethlehem and Central. The Bobcats destroyed Bethlehem wholesale, securing an 11-0 fifth-inning stoppage, and they overcame Central 5-2 after a more slowly paced game that never seemed to get out of Paxton’s control. However, the situation got even better for Paxton, as perennial rival Laurel Hill (who Paxton also beat by more than 10 runs the previous week) upset then-unbeaten Malone 5-4 on Thursday, March 14, giving Paxton a two game advantage over its next-toughest opponent.
“It was huge week for us,” said Paxton coach Jeff Bradley. “It gives me a big confidence boost to know that these guys in the dugout are still in control of their destiny. Every year we compete and battle it out and we’ve gotten the reputation in our district for being the team to come get. It’s humbling to think of it that way, but it just goes to show that the hard work pays off.”
The Wednesday, March 13, victory against Bethlehem was a breeze for the Bobcats, who swept the opposition with 15 hits on offense, while Jesse Whitmire struck out three batters and walked one with no hits in four innings. Marcus Bradley and Forrest Wibbing took turns on the mound in the top of the fifth, giving up a hit apiece, but a quick double play sealed the deal on the win. Bradley and Austin Carnley went 3-for-3 at the plate and Dustin Geoghagan was 2-for-2 with a walk.
Paxton’s attack began in the first inning, as Kaleb Newborn singled in Geoghagan, who reached on a single followed by another RBI single from Bradley to score Newborn. Bradley scored on a passed ball after stealing second and third, and Jeremiah Watkins brought Whitmire around the bags for the fifth-straight hit and a 4-zip lead. Carnley also got on base with a single, but he was left stranded as Bethlehem pitcher Jordan Ingle struck out the last Paxton batter.
The Bobcats struck again in the third after getting three more hits, though it was the trio of Bethlehem errors that enabled Whitmire to score his second run of the game. Bethlehem suffered three more fielding errors and gave up five more hits and two walks in the fourth inning, enabling Paxton to score a further six runs for the 11-0 lead that would win the game for the home team. Four of the six final runs were earned via RBIs from Whitmire, Watkins, Carnley, and Geoghagan.
Friday’s game against the Central Jaguars was the tougher of the two district contests during the week, but Paxton, with Grant Stewart on the mound through the first five innings, remained firmly in control throughout. Stewart struck out nine batters and walked five, giving up two hits to Central’s Wendall Cooley, who went 2-for-3 with a walk. The Jaguars’ second run was earned in the sixth inning on an RBI single by Victor Dixon, who got the hit off Whitmire (one hit, two strikeouts for the save), in for Stewart since the fifth.
Paxton got started early again, with Geoghagan driving in Wibbing on an RBI double before crossing home himself thanks to a wild pitch from Central’s Nick Waters, who did just one inning’s work before being replaced by Pat Patterson, who threw for the rest of the game. Patterson walked three batters in the bottom of the second inning and fielding miscues let both Watkins and Austin Burlison score before the end of the at-bat. The Jaguars’ Nolan Frady put a run on the board for his squad after Waters hit a fly-out to deep left to make it a 4-1 ballgame in the top of the third.
Whitmire, facing a 1-2 count with two outs in the bottom of the third, had an RBI single to score Newborn for Paxton’s final run of the inning. From there out the Bobcats had to win the game from the pitcher’s mound, as they scored no more runs in the remaining three at-bats, despite a good look in the bottom of six, when Watkins and Carnley were left stranded. Whitmire finished with two Ks in the top of the seventh, and Jordan Hartline made a diving catch to end the game on what could have been Cooley’s third hit of the evening.