PHOTO: Cody Menster winds and delivers while pitching a no-hitter for Monticello June 4 against West Liberty. (Photo by Emily Burds)
By Pete Temple, Express Sports Editor
No-hitters thrown by Matt Holmes and Cody Menster were the highlights as the Monticello baseball team won six games in a span of five days last week. The wins, which included opening the Tri-Rivers Conference schedule 4-0, upped the Panthers’ overall winning streak to nine, making the team 9-1 overall.
“It’s a long season, and hitting comes and goes, but our pitching and defense have been a constant over this winning streak,” Monticello coach Josh Soper said.
“As a coaching staff, we are really proud of these kids. They play hard, they support each other, and they go about their business the right way.”
The first of the no-hitters came June 3 at Alburnett, as Holmes blanked the Pirates 6-0 with five strikeouts and two walks in six innings.
It was the first game of the Panthers’ first Tri-Rivers Conference doubleheader of the season, which Monticello swept.
”Matt Holmes threw a no-hitter and we really took advantage of Alburnett’s sloppiness in the field,” Soper said. “We made some very nice defensive plays as well.”
Two big innings were key to the victory, as the Panthers scored five times in the second inning and six in the sixth. Michael Reuter’s two-run double was a key hit in the second.
“It was nice to see our bats break out and collect 14 hits,” the coach said.
Mason Newhard batted 3-for-4, and Reuter finished 3-for-5. Getting two hits apiece were Sam Boyd, Tanner Felton and Derek Manternach. Felton also stole two bases.
The Panthers won the second game 5-1, getting two key insurance runs in the top of the sixth on a two-run single by Matt Manternach. Zach Monk pitched 4 2/3 innings in that game to get the win, allowing just two hits; and Newhard finished to get a save. Boyd and Reuter had two hits apiece, each with a double; Reuter also drove in two runs.
“Zach Monk picked up his first career varsity win,” Soper said. “We played a clean defensive game and made several great plays, especially up the middle.”
Menster then hurled his no-hitter the next night, in a non-conference game at West Liberty, as the Panthers scored a 12-1 win. Menster worked five innings, allowing one unearned run, and struck out three.
“That’s something I’m sure he will never forget,” Soper said. “Cody was very solid in his first career varsity start. He also did a very nice job fielding his position.”
Matt Holmes made a diving catch in center field to help Menster preserve the no-hitter. The coach also gave credit to Reuter, the catcher.
“Michael has done a tremendous job managing our pitching staff,” he said. “To catch no-hitters on back-to-back nights is really special.”
The Panthers were also pretty special at the plate, collecting 12 hits. Boyd went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and three runs scored. Monk, Felton and Matt Manternach had two hits apiece. Holmes was 1-for-2 and had three stolen bases.
Monticello returned to Tri-Rivers action June 6 at home, edging Springville 2-0 and 4-1.
“First and foremost, we were happy to get the sweep,” Soper said. “We knew Springville was a much-improved team. They played well and were very feisty.
“Offensively, we really struggled to string together hits. When we did reach base, we made several mistakes running the bases, including missed signs, which can never happen.
“As bad as we were offensively, it’s a real credit to how good a team we have to still be mentally tough and win these games. We won with great pitching and defense.”
Holmes pitched a three-hit shutout in the opening game, striking out four. The Panthers scored in the first inning on a bases-loaded walk to Spencer Williams, and in the fourth on an RBI double by Sam Boyd.
In the second game, Newhard was the winning pitcher, allowing no earned runs and seven hits over seven innings. Boyd, Williams and Holmes had two hits apiece.
The final game of a busy week was June 7 at Camanche, where the Panthers scored three runs over the final three innings in a 4-2 victory.
Menster, pitching in relief of Reuter, worked the last four innings to get the win, striking out six and allowing just two hits.
Tied 1-1 after four innings, the Panthers took the lead in the top of the fifth when Holmes walked with the bases loaded, scoring Monk.
The Panthers also scored in the sixth on a sacrifice fly by Reuter, and in the seventh when Holmes grounded into a fielder’s choice, scoring Williams.
“Another solid night of baseball,” Soper said. “We did a nice job pitching, and our defense made a lot of plays once again. Our situational baseball was really good.”