BENTON -- Both Peyton Pallette and Jesse Barker picked up strikeouts when they needed them most Monday afternoon.
The two Benton right-handers combined to give up two hits while striking out 11 batters in a 2-0 victory over Little Rock Christian in the semifinals of the Class 5A state baseball tournament at Everett Field.
Pallette worked out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam by striking out the final two batters of the first inning. Barker found himself in a similar situation in the sixth. He also fanned the inning's final two batters.
"It was just guts," Benton Coach Mark Balisterri said. "They gutted it out."
Benton (23-5) ended a 14-game winning streak by Little Rock Christian (22-5) to earn a trip to this weekend's championship game in Fayetteville against Sheridan.
The Panthers managed only six hits off of Little Rock Christian starter John White, but two of them proved to be timely. Senior Michael Allison provided the game's first run with a two-out single in the fourth. Junior Kip Tracy came off the bench and delivered a run-scoring double to cap the scoring. Both of those hits brought in senior Caleb Easterling, who had singled before both RBI hits.
But this game belonged to the pitchers. Pallette struck out 7 in his 4 innings, allowing only 1 baserunner after the first inning. Barker, who had thrown a shutout in Friday's semifinal victory over Russellville, struck out four in three innings. The only hit against Barker was a slow-rolling infield grounder that second baseman Jackson Huskey could not handle cleanly.
"We were hoping to get three [innings] out of [Pallette], but he got us four," Balisterri said. "Our plan was to go to [senior Colin] Morrow in the middle and finish with Barker, but we had a gut feeling that Barker wanted it."
Barker entered the game in the fifth inning and promptly struck out the first two batters he faced, but he struggled to start the sixth, walking G. Allen and Cason Tollett on a combined nine pitches. Bradley Freier advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt, placing the tying run at second.
The Warriors' Reid Bowman worked the count to 3-2 and fought off three consecutive foul balls before swinging at a high inside pitch for strike three. Sam Chesshir went down swinging on four pitches.
"It was touch-and-go there. I just couldn't find the plate," Barker said. "I was extremely relieved to get that first strikeout."
A single by Allen, a walk and an error had Pallette on the ropes in the first inning.
"It felt incredible to get out of that inning," Pallette said. "My goal was to throw strikes, get through innings, get batters. No walks because when I allow walks that's when I get into trouble.
"I think I could have gone the distance, but I'm glad coach pulled me because Barker was ready."
Easterling started the fourth inning with a single and moved to second when White was called for a balk. Two outs later, Easterling scored on Allison's single.
"Obviously, we would have wanted a one-run game at the end but in the grand scheme of things, I don't think it made a difference," Little Rock Christian Coach Brandon Eller said. "We had chances to score and we didn't. Their pitchers did a really, really good job."
White surrendered six hits and walked only one batter in six innings. He struck out six.
"We made plays on defense all day," Balisterri said. "We didn't have a lot of hits, but we had timely hits. This was a game where we had a lot of contributions from a lot of people. ... I can't say enough about these guys. I'm very proud of them."
Sports on 05/14/2019
Print Headline: Benton pitchers strike in opportune situations