By Pete Temple, Express Sports Editor
While the week had some bright spots, most notably a win over Cascade, it was generally a tough stretch for the Monticello baseball team.
The Panthers won two of six games last week, losing by one run in each of the four defeats.
“Every opponent we played was a quality team,” Monticello coach Josh Soper said. “We were one pitch, one defensive play, or one hit away from winning each of those games.”
To begin with, Monticello (6-6, 13-10) lost a pair of heartbreakers at Maquoketa Valley June 18, falling by scores of 9-8 and 3-2.
The first one was probably toughest; the Panthers jumped to a 6-0 lead, scored twice to make it 8-5, and then allowed two runs in the sixth inning and two in the seventh to see it slip away. Maquoketa Valley’s Carter Funke hit a double down the right field line to drive in the winning run with one out in the bottom of the seventh.
“We were given a nice lead with the help of some sloppy defense on their part,” Soper said. “Unfortunately, we gave it all back in the end.
“Our defense really let us down. We needed to play fundamentally sound baseball with the lead, and we didn’t. These are learning moments for our kids, and hopefully we continue to understand the importance of playing one pitch at a time.”
The Panthers scored five runs in the third inning, with three of those coming in on RBI singles by Michael Reuter, Tim Norton and Mason Newhard.
Chance Manternach and Norton drove in the Panther runs in the sixth. Isaac Wolf, Reuter and Manternach each had two of the team’s 10 hits. Manternach took the loss on the mound despite allowing no earned runs, pitching the seventh inning in relief.
In the second game, a five-hit, six-strikeout pitching performance by Matt Holmes went for naught in a 3-2 loss.
“This game could have gotten away from us, but Matt Holmes pitched out of some tough jams,” Soper said. “We played hard in this second game, but fell just short. Defensively, we had too many errors once again.”
The Wildcats scored single runs in the first, third and fifth innings. The Panthers tied the game 1-1 on an RBI single by Tyler Felton. Then, trailing 3-1, a grounder by Norton brought in another run.
Manternach finished 2-for-3.
“Maquoketa Valley has a nice team being led by several seniors,” Soper said.
Monticello bounced back in a big way the next night, trouncing North Cedar 15-3 in five innings. Norton had a pair of three-run homers in the game, including a walkoff homer in the bottom of the fifth that ended the game with the 10-run rule.
Tanner Felton, Wolf and Manternach each had two hits. Tanner Felton had a two-run homer and finished with three RBIs.
Mason Newhard pitched for the win, allowing six hits and striking out three.
“The wind was blowing out, and Tanner Felton and Tim Norton were able to take advantage, belting some long home runs,” Soper said. “Timmy’s last one was a walkoff home run that I am sure he will never forget.
“We had a lot of hits out of everyone in the lineup tonight. Chance Manternach has hit well the last few weeks but hasn’t had a lot of positive results. That has changed this week, as he collected two more hits (against North Cedar).
“Mason pitched extremely well against a good team. He kept the ball down and didn’t walk anyone, which is important.”
Cascade came to town June 21 for a Tri-Rivers doubleheader, and each team came away with a win.
Monticello won the first game 5-4, with a three-run fifth inning erasing a 4-2 deficit. Newhard drew a bases-loaded walk for the first run, Manternach scored on a wild pitch to tie the game, and Sam Boyd drove in Zach Monk with the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly.
Pitcher Tyler Felton, who went the distance, then shut down the Cougars in the seventh. Felton allowed six hits and struck out three.
Reuter, Manternach and Boyd each had two hits in the game.
“In order to win close games, teams have to be good at situational baseball, and we showed that we are improving in that area,” Soper said. “All of our runs scored were manufactured. Tyler Felton did a nice job staying composed and pitching out of some jams.”
Cascade turned the tables and won the second game 2-1, as the Panthers were held to five hits.
“I tip my cap to their pitchers, as they did a great job,” Soper said. “We fell one or two hits short of getting the win, but we had quality at bats in this game.”
Wolf pitched a six-hitter with four strikeouts, allowing just one earned run, but took the loss.
“For a kid that didn’t pitch last year, he has been outstanding,” the coach said.
Monticello also benefitted from an outfield assist by Tanner Felton, who threw out a runner at the plate in the sixth inning.
Perhaps the toughest loss of the week was Saturday, June 23 at DeWitt Central. Monticello battled back from a 2-0 deficit, took a 6-2 lead with four runs in the top of the 11th, but gave up five in the bottom half to fall 7-6 on a two-run, walkoff home run.
Reuter pitched the first nine innings, allowing two runs on eight hits.
“Michael Reuter pitched a gem,” Soper said. “He went nine innings on only 88 pitches.”
The Panthers couldn’t capitalize, however, leaving 12 runners on base, including nine in scoring position.
“Our only two errors came in the 11th inning, and good teams make those mistakes hurt,” the coach said. “It never should have made it to the 11th inning, though. We had several opportunities throughout the game.”
PHOTO: Panther right fielder Tanner Felton tracks down a Maquoketa Valley fly ball June 18 in Delhi. (Photo by Pete Temple)