Relief pitching leads to second title for Panthers

Pahranagat Valley cousins sophomore Stockton Maxwell and senior Christian Higbee helped get the Panthers out of two bases-loaded jams and claim a second consecutive 1A state baseball championship 5-4 over Indian Springs Saturday at Durango.

The first crisis came in the third inning when coach Brad Loveday pulled starter Higbee and put in Maxwell. “What a great job he did,” Loveday said. “He just came in and threw strikes. His curveball was really sharp today, and I can’t say enough about him, he just did a great job.”

With the bases loaded in the third, one out, and Indian Springs (25-6) leading 4-1 and threatening to blow the game open to force a second and deciding game, Maxwell came on and killed the rally on three pitches with a popup to the shortstop and a 4-3 fielder’s choice.

“It feels awesome. I’m glad we got the win,” Maxwell said. “I just told myself, ‘I gotta get it over the plate,’ and I tried. I was doing everything I could to throw strikes.”

Maxwell picked up his second win of the tournament by pitching two-and-two-thirds innings. He allowed one hit, struck out two and walked one. He had won the opening game of the tournament for Pahranagat Thursday, on his birthday, a 10-4 win over Mineral County, going five-and-a-third innings, allowing four hits, walking two and striking out three.

Despite shutting down the Thunderbirds’ first bases-loaded rally in the championship game, the Panthers (22-9) still had work to do. Indian Springs had pushed across two runs in the third inning on an RBI single from Nino Alvarez and an RBI double from Wrench Perry and were leading 4-1.

However, in the bottom of the third, the Panthers responded with three runs, tying the game on Garrett Higbee’s RBI double.

In the fourth inning, Pahranagat got the go-ahead and eventual winning run in an excruciating fashion for the Thunderbirds. After starter Dillon Pollock got two easy outs in the bottom of the inning, an error on a routine ground put Asher Haworth on base and led to Tabor Maxwell’s RBI double to left field giving the Panthers a 5-4 lead they would not give up.

Brothers Stockton and Tabor Maxwell combined to keep the Thunderbirds at bay in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, allowing just two hits and recording six strikeouts. But Indian Springs reared their heads in the top of the seventh to set the stage with high drama..

A second bases loaded jam for PVHS occurred that inning against T. Maxwell, who was trying to close it out. With two outs Loveday decided to put starting pitcher Higbee back in to get the final out, which he did getting Jordan Flamm, on a 1-2 count, to hit an infield popup to the shortstop. “Nice, it feels very nice,” T. Maxwell said. “A few more insurance runs would have been nice, too. No, it was good. I liked it. It was fun.”

Garrett Higbee and T. Maxwell each doubled and had two RBIs for the Panthers. Perry finished the game 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs for the Thunderbirds.

Losing coach Eric Hauge admitted, “This isn’t fun, but (Pahranagat Valley) is a great team, but we’re a great team, too. We battled back and forth. This season for us went awesome. I felt like we were playing some real good baseball at the end of the year, but we just ended up one short.”

Alamo and Indian Springs played six times this year. The Thunderbirds took the first two, but the Panthers then beat them four straight times in the regional and state tournaments.

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