by Rick Conrad
For the Pharos-Tribune
For the second game in a row a Lewis Cass pitcher has pitched well enough to register a win. For the second game in a row the Kings came out on the losing end of things in a Mid-Indiana Conference matchup.
Defending Class 3A state champion Western escaped town with a 5-3 win on Tuesday.
Josh Rankert started on the mound for the Kings and gave up 10 hits scattered over the course of the game. Western is a strong hitting team and put the ball in play often. The Kings, victim of errors on Saturday, had a strong defense committing just one error Tuesday.
“I was trying to get ahead on strikes but they were just wearing me down,” Rankert, a sophomore southpaw, said. “They are a very, very good hitting team and if you make one mistake against them they’ll score runs on it.”
Lewis Cass had its opportunities to turn the tide during the game but a lack of offense at the plate spelled doom. The Kings could only muster six hits during the contest against Western aces Ronnie Smith and Evan Warden.
The Panthers wasted no time in showing Cass that they came to play. Lead-off hitter Marcus Pingleton stroked a base hit to left to get on. Pingleton stole second with Warden at the plate. Warden then collected an RBI with a base hit to center and just like that the Panthers took a 1-0 lead.
The Kings then settled themselves down and retired the next three batters to end the threat. Cass went down 1-2-3 in its half with the score staying 1-0 at the end of one.
Cass the turned the tables in the second with a 1-2-3 against the Panthers. With two out in their half of the inning, the Kings offense showed a bit of life. Austin Clem stroked a long single to get on and then advanced to second when Garrett Pullen reached on a dropped third strike. Both runners advanced a base on a passed ball and Clem then scored when Noah Byers reached on an error to tie it at 1-1. Both Pullen and Byers were left stranded in the inning.
In the Western half of the third thing took an ugly turn for the Kings. They again allowed the lead-off hitter Cameron Kuntz to get on via an error. Kuntz then moved to second on the bad throw. Cass got Pingleton to ground out second to first for the first out. That brought up Warden who reached safely on a fielder’s choice. Kuntz then fell asleep going back to second and the Kings caught him a rundown. Clem finally caught up to him and the tag was made for the second out. With Warden on, the Panthers connected on three straight hits, a single and back-to-back doubles to plate three runs in the inning and opening up a 4-1 lead before Austin Dukes grounded out to Clem at first. Cass went quietly in its half of the inning and it was still 4-1 after three.
After a fairly quiet fourth, the Kings started to make things interesting. Two runs were scored by Jake Miller and Jake Wilburn off hits from Wilburn, Kyle Dwiggins and a double from Clem. At the end of five complete it was a 4-3 game.
Western then added one more run in its half of the sixth when Austin Weaver crossed the plate on a Warden base hit RBI. Warden and Weaver both hit safely in the sixth to make it the 5-3 final as the Kings could muster no more offense in the game.
Senior Austin Clem led the way for the Kings going 3-for-4 at the plate with a double off the left field wall.
“I want to give all the credit to Western. They’re a strong contender for the state again this year,” Clem, a Huntington University signee, said. “You know, for us losing four or five guys due to graduation and then compete like this against them, that says a lot about this team. The hits will come and a couple crucial hits here or there and it’s probably a different outcome.”
Cass skipper Greg Marschand said he will take the kind of effort the Kings showed every time.
“We had our opportunities, they competed,” he said. “Our guys didn’t flinch, we battled them all the way and gave them all they could handle and even more. It boiled down to Rankert pitched well enough for the win but we just had some mistakes at the wrong time and we didn’t get the hits at the right time.”
The Kings dropped to 9-3 and 1-2 in conference play, but don’t count the defending MIC champs out just yet as anything can happen in this traditionally strong baseball league.