Carla Harris, special correspondent
Victory was sweet on Thursday night for the sixth-ranked Latta Panthers as they defeated No. 20 Wister 3-1 to claim the Class A Regional championship and move into this week’s state tournament.
With the game tied at 1-1 with two outs in the bottom of the sixth, Nick Wilson hit a two-run homer over the left field fence to give the Panthers the lead and the win.
Brady Johnson got the win on the mound for the Panthers in relief. He went to the mound in the fourth with the game tied at 1-1. Johnson didn’t give up a hit and struck out eight of the 11 batters he faced. He didn’t give up a walk and only went to full count on one batter.
The Panthers advanced to the regional championship game with a wild 10-8 first-round win over Tushka.
“We did baseball things well today. I think we got a little tight at times, but I can’t be more proud of these boys,” said Latta head coach Eddie Collins. “We had two huge wins today. We played a brutal schedule, and it made us better. We have to go out next week, though, and do even better.”
In the top of the first, it looked as though Wister would score. Jesse Hammons drew a lead off a walk and reached second on a passed ball. Jake Sconyers then had an infield single to move Hammons to third. Wister tried a delayed steal, but the Latta defense wouldn’t have any part of it, throwing Hammons out at the plate.
Latta got on the board in the bottom of the second. Parker Henderson singled and moved to second on an error. A sacrifice by Ty Hoppe moved Henderson to third, and he scored on a passed ball for a 1-0 Panther lead.
Wister tied it up in the top of the fourth. Scottie Gibson reached on an error. Hunter Prock singled, and Cody Holzhammer was hit by a pitch to load the bases. A walk to Caleb Moore put Wister on the board. Wister would only manage one other base runner, as Johnson took the mound and took over. One final Wister batter reached on an error in the fifth.
The bottom of the sixth proved to be exciting for the Panthers. Treston Tully singled and tried to push it into a double but was thrown out at second for the second out of the inning. Hoppe was walked, and Wilson stepped to the plate. He hit a hard shot to left that it looked like the wind was going to send foul, but it didn’t. The ball just stayed in fair territory as it cleared the wall and Latta took the 3-1 lead.
Johnson struck out batter number one in the seventh, and Hoppe caught a pop-up for the second out. Johnson ended the game the way he started it with another strikeout.
In the game, Wister only managed two hits and committed four errors. Losing pitcher Gibson only gave up four hits and had eight strike outs.
For Latta, Johnson, Henderson and Wilson all were 1-for-3, and Tully went 1-for-2.
State tournament pairings are expected to be released on Momday.