By Jeremy McDonald
INDEPENDENCE, Ore.– Kaleb Kantola didn’t have the best of starts Thursday afternoon against Sandy. It was damn-near nightmarish.
And here’s why. Even though Central walked away with the 8-2 win at the end of the game, early on the senior pitcher surrendered an early single, hit a batter and allowed a walk all in succession to load the bases with no outs on the board in an all-too-soon tight predicament in the game.
But, call it fate under the Baseball Gods, shear determination or a combination of the two, but Kantola settled in with two strikeouts and let his defense work as Brandon Lopez made an infield out to shut the door on the massive threat to start the game entering the bottom half of the opening inning.
“I didn’t start off the way I wanted to but I worked my way through the jam and got outs. We finished the out and we had a big inning on the offensive side, so it helped us out a lot with momentum in the game,” said Kantola.
Nonetheless the outs seemed to give the Panthers confidence as they went to work with their bats entering the bottom half of the first inning.
That’s where, starting with Lopez’ launch of a lead-off double, Central loaded up the bases and started to drive in the runs almost as fast as they were sending batters to the plate. That double seemed to have dumped gasoline on the spark that the strong finish of last inning had created.
“That was great, we haven’t had a great hitting game like that all season. I mean to see the bats come alive, that was good,” said Lopez, who started and ended the first inning at the plate.
Ten batters visited the dish in the first inning, resulting in five runs as their defense went back to work in the second with some wind in their sails coming off an interesting first inning.
Kantola, though surrendering the occasional walk in the game, allowed just two hits in four innings while striking out eight total in his second start of the season.
With Brendan Lesmeister on the bump Friday at South Medford, Kantola knows that pitching consistency similar to Thursday will be necessary against the strong hitters that the Southern Oregon Panthers traditionally have in their lineup to avoid what could have happened to them there in the first inning and again in the fourth with bases loaded jams.
“It’s definitely going to be important, we know they have a lot of good hitter. I’ve faced them in the summer and I think they have a lot of guys on Medford (Mustangs). We just have to locate and hit our spots, get outs and hopefully our offense will do well as well,” said Kantola, who faced a few of the batters on South as a member of the Post 20 Dirtbags over the summer in the American Legion Triple-A State Playoffs.
The offense slowed, but stilled trickled the runs in for support as the defense only stumbled in the fifth for two runs as the lone hiccups in the contest. Relief pitcher Justin Girod added another three strikeouts in three innings of work after coming in during the fifth inning and kept Sandy to those two fifth-inning runs to send the squad to Medford with some confidence.
“We got a good pitcher coming in tomorrow so, but a long bus ride…we got to be ready. We got to be focused, have our tunes in,” said Lopez, who went 2-for-4 in the game.
Kyle Holt drove in two RBIs, Connor Laeng, Hunter Chase and Emiliano Alarcon all drove in RBIs in the win Thursday afternoon.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald