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Tournaments | Story | 10/22/2018

Panthers run the table for title

Bryan Cooney        
Photo: South Charlotte Panthers 2022 (Perfect Game)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – It took a late semifinal rally for the South Charlotte Panthers to even make Monday’s championship game of the WWBA Freshman World Championship. After scoring seven runs in the final two innings to earn their spot in the title game, a six-run first inning for the Panthers was plenty of cushion for Cameron Padgett (2022, Salisbury, N.C.) who fired 6 1/3 shutout innings in the 6-0 triumph over 5 Star National Black 15u.

Padgett set the tone early for the South Charlotte Panthers with a clean first inning of work, and right away his offense provided him with a chance to pitch with a lead. Parker Byrd (2022, Laurinburg, Ga.) lined a one-out double to the gap in left-center and Matt Heavner (2022, Lincolnton, N.C.) followed with a fly ball that dropped into right that allowed Byrd to come in to score to make it 1-0.

Graham Smiley (2022, Stanley, N.C.) kept the line moving as he hammered a hanging breaking ball to the wall in left to score Heavner and Xavier Isaac (2022, Kernersville, N.C.) hit a shallow fly to left that fell in to bring Smiley to the plate and make it a 3-0 Panther advantage. The runs did not stop flowing there as a dropped third strike allowed Issac to trot home and Aiden Evans (2022, Cornelius, N.C.) lined a two-out, two-run single to left to make it a six-run start for the Panthers.

With that lead, Padgett was able to pound the strike zone and only ran into trouble in the fifth inning after allowing the first two men to reach, but got a double play on a line drive to second and a strikeout to keep 5 Star off the board.

“It helped a lot knowing my offense was behind me, all I had to do was pitch to contact,” Padgett said after the game.

After getting the first out in the seventh, Padgett was lifted, allowing just three hits, a pair of walks and finishing his outstanding outing with eight strikeouts. Heavner came on to record the final two outs with ease to culminate an outstanding display for the week from Panther head coach Scott Clemens’ young men.

“We’ve worked all year long to improve our approach at the plate, offensively we feel like we don’t have any holes top to bottom," Clemens said. “To come through with that situation against the Canes was awesome, but we had a situation in our quarterfinal where were down 4-1 and they just wouldn’t quit. The guys were resilient all week, they bought in to what we were telling them and they took care of their bodies.

“Having 7-8 games is a grind on anyone’s body, there’s a lot of emotions going on. To get back up today, having the guys here at 6:45 a.m. in the cage, I could tell they were up and ready to play.”

Lost in the winning effort for the Panthers was the relief appearance by 5 Star’s Zacharia Taha (2022, Fort Myers, Fla.) who entered with one out in the first inning and gave his team 6 1/3 scoreless innings, finishing with three hits allowed and four strikeouts without issuing a walk. 

The story of the day was certainly the effort on the mound from Padgett, which was the capper to four appearances over the tournament in which he worked 12 1/3 innings, collecting 11 strikeouts and didn’t allow a single run. His performance was more than worthy of being selected as the tournament’s Most Valuable Pitcher going head-to-head against some of the top teams from across the country.

“It was a great experience, early in the tournament we had a lot of energy, being able to come all the way down to Florida from North Carolina being able to play with all these kids from around the country, being able to see their energy and see that different competition really helped out a lot and will help our games,” Padgett said.

Out of all the top performances at the plate from the Panthers across their lineup, Isaac was chosen as the tournament’s MVP with a .400 average (8-for-20), four extra-base hits and eight RBI to go along with his stellar defense at first base. 

“We had to stay energetic, Cam and I tried bringing the guys up and that was our biggest thing this week,” Issac said. “We played great and had a really good time.”

Evans led the Panthers with nine hits and drove in eight runs for the tournament and Byrd matched Issac’s eight hits and drove in six runs, while Tanner Zellem (2022, Fleming Island, Fla.) led 5 Star offensively with a .471 average (8-for-17) and seven RBI for the runner-ups.

Facing a 3-0 deficit to a talented Canes National 2022 club in their morning semifinal, the Panther bats rose to the occasion, a trait that they had shown all tournament with being able to put up runs in bunches. One swing off the bat from Braylen Hayes (2022, Sophia, N.C.) changed the game as his two-run triple, and trot home after the throw to try and nab him at third went into the dugout, tied the score up, setting up a seventh-inning, two-out rally.

With men on first and second, Smiley bounced a ground ball through the left side with the runners on the move to put his team ahead for good, and Isaac added a booming two-run double to help pad a lead the Panthers wouldn’t relinquish as they took a 7-4 victory and momentum into their matchup with 5 Star.

5 Star’s William Joyner (2022, Lake Park, Ga.) worked five innings of one-run ball, striking out six to lead his team to the championship game as 5 Star defeated US Elite 15u National 6-1. That win allowed 5 Star to advance to the championship game after a long week that included three playoff victories on Sunday to have a shot to play for a title.

2018 WWBA Freshman World Championship runner-up: 5 Star National Black 15u

2018 WWBA Freshman World Championship MVP: Xavier Isaac

2018 WWBA Freshman World Championship MV-Pitcher: Cameron Padgett

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