Mead pitcher Matt Nelson was doing his best to hold the fort in a decidedly offensive contest against rival Mt. Spokane, and the Panthers needed one big hit in order to give him some breathing room.
Who did they turn to? Matt Nelson.
The pitcher-turned-slugger’s three-run, fourth-inning double provided a five-run cushion en route to an 11-7 home triumph Friday afternoon.
Victory salved wounds a day after each team’s Greater Spokane League perfect seasons came to an end. Shadle Park blitzed Mead’s Panthers 10-1 with Evan Douglas hitting solo and grand slam home runs in the Highlanders’ eight-run third inning. University, which lost 5-4 to Mt. Spokane Tuesday, won 4-3 Thursday despite home runs by Drew Rasmussen and Garrett Hoffnagle.
In Friday’s game, Mead and Mt. Spokane divvied up 22 hits, seven of them doubles. The Wildcats had at least one of their 11 hits in each inning. The Panthers bunched theirs, scoring all their runs in the even innings.
They scored five runs in the second for a 5-1 lead with Davian Barlow hitting a two-run, two-out single. They added four in the fourth, which included Nelson’s blow, and their final two in the sixth.
“I relied heavily on the defense today;my defense won the game for me,” Nelson said. “We started off shaky, but that’s what we preach in practice: Defense, defense, defense and pitch to contact. I don’t have much shoulder left in me, but that’s what we relied on.”
As for his decisive hit? “I’ve got to give credit to the guys for giving me the opportunity to drive them in,” he said. “They did a good job working the counts.”
Mead coach Jason Reich wasn’t surprised by Nelson’s clutch hit.
“He’s been a big stick all year,” Reich said. “His average doesn’t show it, but he’s been hitting the ball hard, just at guys. Today he got baseball justice.”
Wildcats starter Hoffnagle struggled with his control through four innings, hitting three batters and walking a pair in Mead’s big second inning. He allowed four hits, two of them doubles, in the four-run fourth.
Defensively the key came when the Panthers got out of a big hole when Mt. Spokane led off the fourth with back-to-back doubles and didn’t score.
“It was a battle,” Reich said of the outcome. “I felt both teams swung the bat really well. That’s a solid hitting club and I felt we hit like we can. We kind of lost our way yesterday a little bit and today we got back on the horse.”
The teams meet again Tuesday at Mt. Spokane.
The Panthers reached the halfway point of the GSL season at 8-1, a game behind unbeaten Gonzaga Prep, which blasted Shadle Park (4-5) 17-1 on Friday. Mt. Spokane (7-2) shares third place with Ferris and University (6-3) is fifth.