Not just continue, but it seemed like Benefield got even stronger as the game progressed.
Benefield surrendered just two hits and fanned 11 Trojans in the Panthers’ 4-1 victory.
“It’s just an occupational hazard,” Benefield joked following his performance on the mound. “It was unfortunate, but luckily it was nothing serious. It didn’t affect my mechanics at all. I got out there and got back in rhythm. I pitched a good game and had good defense behind me.”
Benefield’s father and head coach Tony Benefield made sure his pitcher wasn’t seriously injured, and allowed him to continue.
“He said it just hurt a little, and I said ‘Well, just go out there and battle with them and we’ll ice it after the game,’” Coach Benefield said. “I think he put it out of his mind and pitched well. He was hitting his spots most of the time, and his velocity was there enough when he didn’t hit his spots he was still getting some good strikes. He pitched well.”
The younger Benefield not only pitched well, but he was almost equally effective at the plate. He doubled down the right field line in the top of the first inning and later scored on a passed ball, giving the Panthers (4-3, 1-0 Class 1A, Area 13) a 1-0 lead.
Grant Benefield finished the game going 2-for-4 with a run and a RBI.
The Panther lead was short-lived, however. Gaylesville (1-6, 0-1) managed to push across a run to tie the game at one on a RBI-single by shortstop Gable Lawson. Lawson’s hit scored Trojan pitcher Cole Murphy, who led off the inning with an infield single.
Murphy was almost equally effective on the mound for the Trojans. He struck out six in six innings of work, but the Panthers were able to nickel-and-dime him for single runs in the first, third, fourth and seventh. Lawson relieved him in the top of the seventh.
“I thought Cole pitched real well,” Trojan coach Kyle Garmon said. “If he pitches like that every game, then we’ve got a chance to beat a lot of people if we start hitting the ball.
“They had single runs spread out in four innings, but we kept them from having the big inning, which I think has kind of plagued us in the past. We’d always have that one inning where we’d kind of implode, but we were able to avoid that. I thought our defense played real well, and Cole pitched real well. We just didn’t hit the ball and didn’t have many base runners.”
Coach Benefield was also impressed with how well Murphy pitched.
“He pitched a game well enough to beat anybody,” he said. “This was our seventh game, and that’s about the best pitching we’ve seen yet. He kept us off-balance.”
Spring Garden first baseman Will Westbrook, who also went 2-for-4 in the game, pushed the Panthers back out in front 2-1 in the third on a double to right centerfield, scoring shortstop Will Penton.
Penton coaxed a walk from Murphy with two outs.
Right fielder Dylan Kirk singled home third baseman Andrew McLarty with two outs in the fourth, giving Spring Garden a 3-1 lead. McLarty walked and stole second with one out in the inning.
Kirk walked to lead off the seventh and scored the game’s final run on Grant Benefield’s infield single off Lawson.
“We manufactured some stuff early in the game that kept us from being in a 1-1 game at the end,” Coach Benefield said. “That’s what it would have been had we not been able to move some runners and hit to the right side and do the things we needed to do to get those runs in. If you’re in a 1-1 game with them at the end, you don’t know what’s going to happen. It was good we were able to manufacture a few runs early.”
The two teams are scheduled to finish their series with a doubleheader on Thursday beginning at 4:30 p.m. in Spring Garden.