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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Neosho’s pitching paves way to Region VI title

By Jeffrey Lutz
The Wichita Eagle

When Neosho shortstop David Bote pointed out after the Panthers’ 1-0 win over Coffeyville on Monday that their offense had been struggling recently, it might have been the first time anyone noticed.

Neosho’s pitching staff has made any difficulties at the plate meaningless. During the Panthers’ 12-game winning streak, they haven’t allowed more than two runs in any game. The staff ERA has fallen below 2.00 for the season, with virtually every member posting eye-popping numbers.

Monday, David Peterson’s 7 2/3 scoreless innings lifted Neosho to a Region VI championship and a spot in the NJCAA World Series, which begins on May 26 in Grand Junction, Colo. The Panthers’ run in the first held up in Neosho’s first region championship since 2003.

"I’ve never been a part of a pitching staff like we have this year," Peterson said.

During the winning streak, Neosho has been held to three runs or fewer six times, and though the Panthers scored 10 in a win over Cowley on Sunday, pitching has carried them before and throughout it.

Peterson has been Neosho’s No. 4 starter with superior credentials. His 2.10 ERA lags behind three of his teammates but he is just as reliable, proving that in Neosho’s most important game.

Coffeyville managed seven hits against Peterson but only got one runner to third base. Of his 89 pitches, 66 were strikes, and he attacked the zone to force Coffeyville to put the ball in play early in the count.

"That’s me," Peterson said. "If I try for strikeouts, if I try to hump up, I get hit around. They hit me around the first conference series, but that’s because I tried to overthrow and everything was elevated."

Working low in the zone necessitated a steady infield defense, and Neosho provided that while at times delivering spectacular plays. Coffeyville got two hits in the fifth but no runs because another hit was taken away on a diving play by Bote.

Ranging far to his right, Bote snagged a grounder hit by Aric Valencia, quickly got to his feet and his short-hop throw beat the Coffeyville catcher by a step. With two runners on later in the inning, Peterson escaped by inducing a double-play groundball

"For them giving us groundball after groundball, it’s great," Bote said. "I’ve made plenty of mistakes for that guy (Peterson). I’ve made so many errors for that kid. It felt great to have a defensive effort for him. He’s had a tough go with the defense behind him, but we stepped it up today."

Bote led off the bottom of the first with a single, scoring on Robbie Ewing’s infield single three batters later. Neosho squandered later opportunities to score, leaving runners in scoring position in the fourth and sixth innings.

Similar chances were afforded Coffeyville, but the Red Ravens were unable to break through. Luke Slagle chased Peterson with a two-out double in the eighth, but Max Ising retired the final four batters to earn the save.

"Our pitching staff is unreal. Unreal," Bote said. "They keep us in so many ballgames it’s ridicuilous. Our hitters, we’ve struggled, but we keep battling and battling. We know if we push one or two across the pitchers are going to battle their butts off."

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W — Peterson. L — Hurlbutt. S — Ising.

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