In a matter of an inning, Kitchener Panthers first baseman Chris Iltshishin went from potential scapegoat to game-day hero.
Up 2-1, he missed a fly ball catch in the top of the 9th, allowing a Hamilton runner on third to run home and tie the game.
But in the bottom of the 10th with the bases loaded, Iltshishin drove in the winning run as the Panthers (3-2) claimed a 3-2 win over the Cardinals (1-1) in Intercounty Baseball League action Sunday afternoon.
“(Iltshishin is) definitely a good ball player so missing a ball like that, there’s a bit of pressure,” says Panthers Manager Luke Baker.
“(In the 10th, Hamilton) walked a couple guys to get him up and they must have thought that he was a weaker link but he definitely proved to be the guy that we needed, and he came through real nice in the clutch.”
Baker knows it could have fallen apart just as easily. He saw this narrative last week.
The Panthers, going into the 9th up 3-0, surrendered four runs and lost their home opener to London 4-3 last Sunday.
Yesterday’s affair saw the Panthers enter the final inning up 2-0.
Baker says he was glad to pull out the victory this time.
“All of our games have been close this season, even our losses so any win that we can pull out, I think especially at the beginning of the season is icing on the cake,” he says, “We’re treating a lot of these games like exhibition in some regards. We didn’t get on the fields early, so we’re trying players at different positions, we’re getting everybody accustomed to each other, trying to get everybody to vibe and gel so we’re experimenting a little bit so when we win, awesome.”
“I’m not too worried about the wins-losses at the beginning of the season. It’s not make-or-break but I’ll take them when we can get them so it was a real nice win.”
Also contributing to the score sheet for Kitchener was Keegan Marsden.
The second baseman opened the scoring with a solo homer in the 2nd inning, then crossed the plate on a double off the bat of Stephen Whalen in the 6th.
Tanner Nivins also put up a three-for-four afternoon to continue his hot start to the year.
But with a low-scoring affair, pitching was paramount and the Panthers got a great debut from Yonder Martinez.
The righty went seven strong innings, surrendering three hits and struck out six batters for a no decision.
“It was huge,” Baker said of Martinez’s performance, “It was a big pitchers’ duel. I didn’t expect it to be, honest.”
“I didn’t really know most of Hamilton’s lineup. So coming in, I’m kind of learning as I go and same with the rest of the team so didn’t expect the pitchers’ duel that we got but it was great. Both pitchers pitched really well.”
Josh Freeman started for Hamilton, giving up a run on five hits and three walks in five innings of work.
The victory went to Miguel Lahera, who was tagged with two runs against on four hits and a walk in two innings pitched. He struck out three batters.
Arman Lakhani took the loss for the visitors.
Up next for Kitchener is a home date with the Toronto Maple Leafs (3-0) on Thursday night.
First pitch goes just after 7:30 p.m. from Jack Couch Park.