Panthers finish off district championship

Pekin head baseball coach Curtis "Pie" Reighard heads back to the dugout during Class 1A district championship prep baseball action at IMS.

KALONA — Ryan Koenig couldn't do it. Neither could Blake Bontrager.

Mother Nature seemed to be the only force strong enough to bring a halt to a first-inning rally by the Pekin Panther baseball team.

On Monday, Pekin completed what the Panthers started on Saturday by earning a Class 1A district championship with a win at IMS. Four Panthers collected hits in the opening inning, which began on Saturday with Quinn Ledger driving in Caleb Comstock before Kennan Winn delivered a two-run double to center, before the Panthers finished off an 11-7 victory over their Southeast Iowa Superconference north division rivals.

Lathan Weaver was at the plate when umpires sighted lightning on Saturday, leading to an initial two-hour delay and an eventual decision to postpone the game. The Panthers were able to ride that 3-0 start and eight more runs scored on Monday to a fourth straight victory.

"We talk about that all the time. Good teams, against good teams, get off to good starts in the very first inning," Pekin head baseball coach Curtis 'Pie' Reighard said. "In our last two games, we've done that. If we continue on this track, it helps make our journey to extend our season a little easier."

Saturday's start was a mirror image of Pekin's district semifinal win at Burlington-Notre Dame. Playing on the road and batting first, the Panthers stormed out to a 6-0 lead at Winegard Field last Tuesday and never looked back.

As the third batter of the game, Tanner Bainbridge hit a two-run home run. Comstock added a two-run single later during a six-run rally.

"Once you put six runs on a team like that, it's a good thing to do to put yourself in position to win," Reighard said. "You put six runs up early, you're looking pretty good."

Bainbridge also hit a two-run triple in the sixth inning to give the Panthers a 10-1 lead against the Nikes. Lathan Weaver, Mason Juhl and Brady Latcham also had RBIs for the Panthers.

Bainbridge dominated on the mound, striking out 12 over 5 1/3 innings. Pekin's offense chased Koenig from the game after just one-third innings, and drew 13 walks against three Nikes pitchers.

"There are a few different seasons you play through each year. There's your conference games, your other regular season games and your postseason games," Reighard said. "We've hit that third season. If the kids continue to play like we've been playing, we're going to be tough to beat."

Pekin (16-8) will be right back on the field tonight looking to qualify for the Class 1A quarterfinals in Iowa High School state baseball tournament. The Panthers will face No. 4 Calamus-Wheatland on Tuesday in Solon in a 1A substate final.

"I would (have) liked to have finished the game on Saturday (with IMS), but we're still in the same boat except we can't use Latcham (on Tuesday)," Reighard said. "When you get the steam roller going in your direction, that's what high school athletics is all about."

Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.

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