Coach Brad Loveday said he thought the team was ready last year for the championship, but heartbreaking losses at state meant they had to wait another year.
And this season, with power hitting and a strong pitching corps, the Panthers finished the year with a 19-game win streak, a 26-3 record, and only lost to a couple of Division I-A teams and to Cate Academy in California, who did not make the playoffs in their own league.
The 26-3 mark matches the 2011 team, who had a 22-game win streak.
But becoming state champion is rarely a given. You still have to work for it, and in both league and state tournament play, PVHS showed how much they could work as they won every game by the 10-run rule or more.
In Sparks last week, in the first game against Wells, Christian Higbee and winning pitcher Tabor Maxwell each had two hits and three RBIs to help Pahranagat roar back from an early 8-3 deficit to rout the Leopards 19-9. They scored six runs in the bottom of the second inning and never looked back. Wells hurt themselves in addition by committing 10 errors.
The second game against Indian Springs was senior Brandon Burris’ effort. The left-hander shined, only allowing four hits, getting 11 strikeouts and two walks. He also went 3-for-4 at the plate with a double and two RBIs. Garett Higbee was 3-for-4 with four RBIs and Shawn Wadsworth had a triple for PVHS.
Wells worked its way through the loser’s bracket back to the Saturday championship game with wins over Mineral County and Indian Springs. And here they had to face Christian Higbee, 2015 League MVP, now pitching the 2016 state championship game.
The Panthers grabbed a 3-0 lead after three innings, highlighted by Garett Higbee’s two-run double, allowing Higbee to be a bit more comfortable on the mound. He threw 52 of his 68 pitches for strikes, gave up six hits, struck out three and walked only one.
Loveday said, “He kept them off balance. He’s not overly powerful with the fastball, good enough, and he was really hitting his spots with the curveball and just kept it going with the fastball.”
The Leopards (19-14-1) used their No. 1 pitcher Cole Gunther, who throws a lot of off-speed stuff, but Loveday said, “This team just wears you down after time. They’re such good hitters and their defense is spectacular. I’m just so proud of them.”
Maxwell was 3-for-4 with two RBIs and G. Higbee had one double and four RBIs. Wadsworth was hit by a pitch three times and scored each time, and Ike Taylor doubled with an RBI.
The Panthers graduate only three seniors, Wadsworth, Burris, and Cody Stirling. Pahranagat was also given the All-State Academic Baseball Award.