By REID TUCKER
The Bobcats did it again – a 2-1 victory over the Central Jaguars sealed the deal on the Paxton baseball program’s eighth-straight District 1-A championship.
Paxton (20-5) defeated Central (16-6) last year too, but that was a shutout 3-nothing win for the Bobcats, who have come to dominate their district in the last decade. This year’s game was a little more of a challenge for the defending champs, as the Jaguars’ defense did its even best to strand as many Paxton runners as possible, stymieing the action during the meat of the contest. Nevertheless, sophomore pitcher Grant Stewart shone on the mound and at the plate, carrying the Bobcats to the win: he threw a three-walk two-hitter with 12 strikeouts while going two-for-two at bat, and he even scored both of his team’s runs.
Getting to that final run was a bit touch-and-go, as the score remained knotted at 1-all through most of the game. Paxton jumped to an early lead in its first at-bat, when Andrew Howell drove in Stewart, who reached with a double, on a nice single over the Central second baseman’s head. Stewart and Howell teamed up once more in the bottom of the sixth after the latter singled then stole his way to third, with Howell crushing the ball into deep right field to score Stewart for what turned out to be the winning run.
“When we have a pitching staff this capable, we only need one run to win a game,” said first-year head coach Chris Davenport. “I told the boys ‘get somebody on and we’ll manufacture the run we need to win.’ The guys were tough as nails when it really mattered tonight and I couldn’t be prouder of them for what they’ve accomplished.”
Both teams played tough on the night of the final, with Central’s infield defense in particular making a good account of itself to hold Paxton’s scoring efforts at bay through most of the game. Pitcher Aaron Robinson struck out eight Paxton batters and walked just four in a complete game, and, though he gave up five hits, his team mates backed him up admirably, stranding several Bobcat base-runners at seemingly every turn.
Central scored the tying run in the top of the third inning when the Jags expertly moved Reed Grant, who reached on a single, to third with a walk and a bunt. Robinson hit a solid drive down the line, but Paxton’s second baseman fired to first base to make the out – Grant still scored in the meantime to make it 1-all. Stewart K’d up the last Central batter of the inning and the game went into a three-inning stalemate before the Bobcats’ dramatic finish.
The road to the final game was decidedly less dramatic, as Paxton breezed through the semi-final game against Poplar Springs by an overwhelming 22-3 margin.
The Bobcats had 12 hits on the night, with top honors going to sophomore Caleb Newborn, who went 3-for-4 with a single, a double and a grand slam in an interminably long second inning in which Paxton scored 12 runs. Emory Anderson went 3-for-3, Stewart and Austin Burlison each went 2-for-3. Keyeen Edge, Paxton’s starting pitcher on the night, picked up the win with seven strikeouts, four hits and three walks, while relief pitcher Jeremiah Watkins finished off the proceedings with a four-K, two hit, one walk showing at the mound.
Davenport had high praise for his players and also for his mentor, former head coach Jeff Bradley, who retired as leader of the program after last season.
“To win eight district championships is a great testament to the quality of our players,” Davenport said. “I have to give credit to coach Bradley for building this program into what it is today. My job as head coach was made easier because we already have great individual players and an even better team. They always step up when they need to.”
The Bobcats will face Sneads at home in the regional semi-final game set for May 5.
By REID TUCKER