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Rough ending for Panthers

    PORTAL — “I told (my team before Game Three);” said Portal Panther coach Tendai Haggins, “whoever makes the most errors is probably going to lose this ballgame.”
    He was right.
    After splitting a doubleheader with Wilcox County Thursday in the first round of the Class A State Playoffs, the Panthers committed four errors in the first three innings of Game Three and allowed the Patriots to jump to an early 9-0 lead in their 18-5 victory Saturday. Portal never recovered.
    Nothing went right for PHS in the first three innings of the elimination contest. The Panthers allowed three runs in each of those innings, including two three-run home runs — one by catcher Anthony Haire and another by centerfielder Cory Singletary (2-for-4, HR, BB, six RBIs, two runs scored) — that would have been less damaging were it not for the runners allowed on base due to errors.
    Starting Panther pitcher Dustin Jones was pulled in the top of the third, and with his team down 9-0 and facing elimination, Haggins had a decision to make. He elected to put freshman Chad Busby — an off-speed pitcher with a nasty knuckleball — on the mound for the first time in his varsity career.
    Busby got out of the third without further damage, and the Portal defense began to show signs of life.
    Its bats also responded. After Busby retired the Patriots 1-2-3 in the top of the fourth, the Panthers cut the nine-run Wilcox lead to seven on the strength of a two-out, two-run homer by first baseman Vinnie Lynn — his fourth of the season.
    The freshman Busby set the Patriots down in order again in the fifth, and PHS used that momentum to get back in the game in the bottom of the inning.
    Busby helped himself out when he reached first base after he grounded to second and a bad throw pulled the Wilcox first baseman off the bag. A two-out Brandon Mock walk put runners on first and second, and a single by Jordan Clark allowed Nick Boggs — Busby’s courtesy runner — to score and cut the Patriot lead to six. The throw home allowed the runners to advance to second and third.
    The two-out rally continued when third baseman Brett Rivers — who pitched a complete game and got the win in Game Two — slapped a single up the middle that scored two and brought Portal within four.
    The rally ended there and the Panthers never got any closer.
    Busby began to run out of steam as he loaded the bases in the top of the seventh, and his varsity debut came to an end. He pitched the better part of four innings and retired 12 of the first 15 batters he faced, allowing just two earned runs that were inherited by PHS reliever Boggs.
    The wheels came off for Portal as Wilcox scored nine run in the top of the seventh as it used four pitchers, including Brandon Mock, who started Game One and threw over 100 pitches in the loss, after Busby had set down the Patriots in order three times.
    “I felt pretty good,” said Busby. “I was real confident in all of my pitches. My knuckleball was doing pretty good, my curveball was breaking and my fastball was moving — tailing like it should be. (The loss was) real hard, real emotional. Tough.”
    Haggins is excited about the prospect of having the young pitcher for three more years.
    “Chad is just a confident young man,” said the Portal coach. “He’s got a bright future ahead of him. He doesn’t get hurt. If he gets bigger and stronger, look for great things from him down the road.”
    With the first-round win, Wilcox will advance to the second round, travelling to No. 1 seed Bacon County for a three-game series on Wednesday.

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.

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