DEARBORN, Mo. — The anticipation built with Hunter Oliver camped underneath the routine infield popup.
North Platte’s senior shortstop squeezed the ball into his glove for the final out, and the celebration started with teammates seemingly never doubting the result. The Panthers needed the catch to preserve a dramatic 8-7 victory over Platte Valley in their season-opener Monday, March 20 at Dean Park.
Building in wins each of the past three seasons, North Platte found relief in the win after allowing two runs in the top of the seventh before stranding the bases loaded with some shiny defense.
“Our goal was just going to be throw strikes,” North Platte coach Grant Tysdahl said. “I feel like we have a really good defense with lots of experience. If we throw strikes, we may give up some runs; we may give up some hits.
“That’s really what we’re preaching: throw strikes, and we’ll make plays.”
Coming off of a nine-win season in 2016, North Platte didn’t have any experienced pitchers back and opened with sophomore Jesse Martin at catcher.
However, Tysdahl expressed confidence in the defense that showed up at just the right time. The Panthers took an 8-4 lead with a four-run bottom of the fourth inning, which included junior Remington Wilson’s RBI infield single and a two-run double from senior Garrett Lamar.
Platte Valley closed within 8-5 with a single run in the top of the sixth against senior reliever Jacob Stubbs but needed a big inning to tie or take the lead.
Stubbs allowed four consecutive hits to start the seventh, and with two on, two runs in and no outs, Platte Valley’s Tanner Davis roped a ball to center field. North Platte senior centerfielder Halen Knapp ran in to make the catch and keep the runners on first and second.
“I just had to make the play for my team, gotta get the first out so we can get some confidence and get those last two outs to win the game,” said Knapp, who went 1-for-3 at the plate and had shown frustration after making outs in the third and fifth innings.
Stubbs then hit Platte Valley’s leadoff batter with a pitch to load the bases.
Nate Jermain followed for the Longhorns and hit a shallow line drive to right field, but North Platte junior Trevor Lamar came in to make the catch and then fired a strike home to keep the tying runner from tagging up to score. Oliver then caught the popup to finish off his solid day.
“There were some pretty darn good plays out there, especially late in the game, and we have to have those to win games,” Tysdahl said.
North Platte came up with all of the answers to earn the win.
Garrett Lamar started on the mound and immediately gave up two runs in the top of the first. He came back to strike out two in the inning and settled down from there with the Panthers providing needed run support.
In the bottom of the first, Oliver (1-for-3) led off with a walk and scored on Garrett Lamar’s two-out single to right field. Platte Valley went ahead 3-1 in the top of the second, but singles from senior Mark Fisher and Knapp jumpstarted a three-run inning to give the Panthers’ their first lead at 4-3.
Garrett Lamar ended up allowing four runs in four innings of his debut on the mound but earned the win.
“I just knew which pitches I could and couldn’t throw and went from there and worked around what I could throw,” Lamar said. “It worked out with the defense behind me.”
Lamar earned the win after North Platte again answered in the bottom of the fourth to take the lead for good. Snook stranded a runner in the top of the fourth to limit Platte Valley to one run, making a strong play to his right and throwing to first where senior Holden Love scooped the ball in the dirt to save at least one run.
Oliver started a two-out rally in the bottom of the frame with his lone hit, and after Trevor Lamar walked, Wilson’s short grounder allowed Oliver to slide in safely to home for the go-ahead run. Longhorns catcher Clayton Wilmes was unable to secure a throw home that appeared to have the runner cut down.
Garrett Lamar followed, rapping a sharp double to left field that scored Trevor Lamar and Wilson. Garrett Lamar went to third on a throw home that Wilmes again couldn’t corral for a potential out.
Stubbs, who pitched the final three innings, followed with a single to right field to plate North Platte’s final run.
“It gave me confidence going out there (to the mound) knowing I had the run support behind me,” said Garrett Lamar, who struck out five while allowing four hits and four walks. “It was pretty nerve-racking early because I hadn’t pitched.”
Tysdahl planned to work through a load of pitching options during a busy first week.
North Platte was scheduled to play at North Andrew on Tuesday, March 21, but the result was not available at The Citizen’s deadline. Pending the possibility of inclement weather, the Panthers would then open KCI Conference play Thursday, March 23 against East Buchanan before hosting the North Platte Triangular on Saturday, March 25 at Dean Park.
Garrett Lamar and Stubbs were the first two to audition for time in the rotation, and new rules limiting pitch counts will keep North Platte at work to find the best options on the mound this season. The Panthers lost both Blake Toliver and Andrew Roberts after the seniors carried the pitching staff a year ago.