Jake Gardner (above) and Jacob Atha (below) combined to no-hit Fayette County Thursday night. (Staff Photos by Christopher Dunn)

by Rob Grubbs

Sometimes, a team just plays better when their back is against the wall. The pressure affects them in positive ways and motivates them to excel. That is what Whitewater coach Rusty Bennett is looking for in the Wildcats’ 2019 stretch run. After seeing some encouraging signs during the Mingo Bay Classic over spring break, where they only lost once, the Wildcats returned to region action and defeated the Fayette County Tigers twice as they continue to fight for a home playoff series.

With four games remaining, Coach Bennett knows they have to win out.

“For us, we have to win. It doesn’t matter who we play, if we want to host a playoff game we have to win out,” said Bennett. “We have to do what we do, we can’t overlook any of them.”

First up for the Wildcats, a three-game series against the Tigers. On Tuesday, the teams and fans endured an hour-long rain delay at Fayette County to see the Wildcats open up an 11-2 lead in the third inning on their way to a 14-6 victory.

After the extended wait, Whitewater scored four runs in the top of the first and coasted the rest of the way. Sophomore catcher Chris Buchannan made early noise with a two-run single to give the Wildcats the lead.

Buchanan finished with 4 RBIs while Maddox Mueller and Landon Busby both scored three times each. Chase Townsend had the eagle-eye at the plate, walking in all four plate appearances.

For the Tigers, Tyler Patrick and Zach Scott each had perfect nights at the plate, finishing a combined 6-for-6 with two walks.

Chandler Tillman was the winning pitcher for Whitewater.

Game two moved to Wildcat Field on Thursday as the Wildcats celebrated their senior night. While the seniors got most of the attention, the pitching of sophomore Jake Gardner was the focus. He and senior Jacob Atha pitched a combined no-hitter in a 10-0 Whitewater victory. “The guys threw well tonight,” said Bennett. “Garner settled down after the first inning and threw ball extremely well, and Atha threw the best he has all year, so that is a great sign for us to be able to use him more down stretch.”

The Wildcats once again took an early lead, 5-0 fueled by a leadoff double by Matt Morgano and a big two-run double from Zach Leischner, and they never looked back. Leischner finished 2-for-2 with a walk and 3 RBIs. While the Tigers were no-hit, Tucker Dorrity did reach base in all three of his plate appearances.

“Phenomenal group, this bunch right here,” Bennett said of his seniors. “You can’t say enough about them, a bunch of selfless guys that go to work every day, the ones in the lineup and those that are not. They’re a classy bunch and a bunch that is going to be missed.”

Tyler Patrick was perfect at the plate in game one Tuesday.

Those seniors still have work to do. Next week is the all-important three-game series against the two-time defending region champion Starr’s Mill Panthers. If the Wildcats get a sweep, they are guaranteed the second spot and the first round home playoff series. Meanwhile, Fayette County is desperately fighting for the fourth spot and will need a win in their final series next week against McIntosh to advance.

For the Panthers, one win against Whitewater will give them their third consecutive region championship. As it should, everything comes down to the final week.


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