Defending champion Panthers pound way to title game

District 51 baseball fans are surely suffering a severe case of Deja Vu heading into the 2018 championship game.

For the fifth year in a row, and 11 of the last 13, the Knox Central Panthers will face the Barbourville Tigers in the District 51 championship game after both were winners in opening-round action on Monday.

Knox Central has won the last three title-game meetings with the Tigers and are 8-2 against its cross-town rival in championship games since the two joined the 51st District after the 2005 season.

In the 12 seasons since, Knox Central has never missed playing in the championship game, winning 10.

The Panthers pounded their way to this season’s title game by scoring 11 runs on eight hits in an 11-0 mercy-rule victory over Pineville on Monday at Knox Central High School.

Knox Central jumped out to an early lead and held the Mountain Lions hitless for four innings before Pineville was able to get its lone hit of the game in the fifth and final inning.

Knox Central, meanwhile, put runs on the board in every inning, with runners crossing the plate two times in the first inning, and three times each in the second, third and fourth frames.

While the Panthers’ offense dominated in the contest, it was superb pitching that stole the show. Evan Landrum started the game and went the distance, allowing one hit while striking out nine in five innings of work. He walked none and hit the strike zone with 87 percent of his pitches, including first-pitch strikes to 15 of the 16 hitters he faced.

Landrum struck out the first seven batters of the game before a Pineville player was finally able to put the ball in play. Only five players were able to put the bat on the ball against Landrum. Two resulted in ground outs, while three others ended in fly outs.

In all, 47 of the 54 pitches thrown by Landrum were strikes.

Two Knox Central hitters, Larken Abner and Blevin Campbell, were a perfect 3-for-3 at the plate. Abner also had three RBI and three runs scored, while Campbell had two RBI and two runs scored.

Jaylen Adams and Jeff Grubb had the Panthers’ other two hits. Adams was 1-for-1 with an RBI and a run scored.

Brady Worley added two runs and an RBI in three at bats for the winners. Landrum crossed the plate two times.

Trey Phipps walked once and scored one run. Tucker Holland knocked in one run.

The Panthers caused all kinds of problems for the Lions on the base paths with a total of 15 stolen bases while only being caught one time. Abner, Adams, and Campbell all had three stolen bases apiece, while Landrum and Worley swiped two each. Jacob Engle and Phipps stole a base apiece.

Knox Central got it started with two runs in the first. Campbell led off the game with a single, stole both second and third, and then scored on a passed ball. Adams scored the next run on a sacrifice by Holland.

Worley led off the second inning by reaching on an error and scoring on a double by Abner, who later scored on a triple by Campbell. The Panthers went up 5-0 in the same inning when Adams singled and Campbell scored.

The third inning was much the same for Knox Central with Landrum leading off with a walk and then scoring when Worley reached on an error. Abner then singled to drive in Worley before Campbell doubled to knock in Abner.

Knox Central led off the final inning with a pair of walks by Phipps and Landrum. Phipps later scored on a single by Abner, followed by a single from Grubb that allowed Landrum to come home and make it 10-0.

The Panthers put the final run on the board later in the same inning when Abner stole home to make it 11-0.

With its backs against the wall, Pineville started off the fifth inning with a single before Knox Central finish off the Lions with three consecutive outs without the runner making it off first base.

Knox Central’s defense did not commit an error in the contest, while Pineville was charged with three.

The game was also Senior Night for the Panthers, who bid farewell to their lone 12th grader, Jeff Grubb.

Knox Central played Barbourville for the championship on Tuesday as the paper went to press. Make sure to check out for a full wrap-up of the title game.