As the major league baseball season races towards its October crescendo and the Central High School fight song only now begins to fade in the ears of Panther faithful following the high school baseball state championship earlier this spring, another tune of bat and ball and glove drifted into the fall evening on Sept. 25 at Salem's Holland park, when the Monmouth/Independence Panthers men’s baseball team, 40-plus division, became the 2019 Willamette Valley Men’s Baseball League Champions in a 10-inning thriller that contained three lead changes for a 12-10 Panther victory.
The Panthers started out with a five-run lead in the first inning, to which the ‘Sox responded with two runs of their own in the second inning, bringing the score up 6-2.
On the mound, Panther pitcher Jake Carillo struck out five over the next three innings.
Additionally, catcher Geoff Miotke threw his opposite number, ‘Sox catcher Titchman out at second with no room to spare.
In the top of the sixth inning with both bullpens quiet, the Panthers’ Matt Holliday singled to right field and collected a stolen base on the first pitch to Ian Peyton following Left fielder Don Lovas' fly out. The extra base proved critical as Peyton doubled Holliday home before David Karr and Carillo made outs two and three. It was at this critical moment that the Red Sox bats came alive.
Center fielder Steve Heilman reached on a base hit and Heinz was hit by Carillo's one-one curveball giving powerful cleanup hitter Mike Sterling two RBIs on a deep single to left centerfield.
Two ground outs later the inning ended; with the Red Sox trailing just 6-5, it was anyone’s game.
By the end of the seventh stanza, the ‘Sox had sent 15 men to the plate and now led by two runs.
Right fielder Dave White summed up the less than morose vibe in the Panther dugout:
"I had just come in from right field and John Palmer (my best friend of forty years) came toward me with a look in his eye that I've seen a hundred times. I knew he could see I was starting to think it was over and he was going to try and make me laugh. I didn't want to laugh at that moment, but he said, ‘dude, you got your pants dirty,’ and I said, ‘I got dirty diving for a ball kind of briskly.’ From behind John I heard someone laugh, 'Dude you got dirty flopping for a ball.' What do you say to that? At that moment, honest to God, I knew we were going to win."
Optimism in the Panther dugout lasted as long as it took infieIder Herb Johns to smack a two-and-two single over second base, making him the eighth of nine lead-off Red Sox hitters to reach safely.
At the top of 10th, the Panther catcher led off with a single up the middle and Mike Lauer reached safely on an error that would put the Panther runners at second and third. Hedges and Holliday struck out, bringing Lovas to the dish with two away. Lovas came up empty on Heinz' first offering but drove the second hard to deep right center scoring both runners and putting the championship squarely in the Panthers sights.
The game ended with a 12-10 victory for the Panthers.
The WVMBL is a baseball league consisting of fourteen teams spread over three divisions. They are 18 and over; 30 and over, and a forty-plus division in which the Panthers compete.
The M/I Panthers begin defense of their WVMBL title around June of 2020 with new players and teams welcomed across the league.