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Cats Turn District Chase Upside Down

paris high logoTen days ago, the Paris Wildcats were stuck at the bottom of the District 13-3A baseball chase with fans wondering if this would be the year for the unthinkable: A winless district campaign for the perennial playoff contenders.  Two games later, they’re still stuck in last place, but now they’ve got some company and the top rung of the district ladder is suddenly in sight.

Tuesday’s 10-4 decision at Hub Hollis Field over Liberty-Eylau, coming on the heels of Friday’s 6-1 win over previously unbeaten North Lamar, raised the Cats’ district mark to 2-3 at the midpoint of the title chase.  Pleasant Grove edged NL, 5-4, Tuesday to pull into a 3-way tie at the top with the Panthers and Atlanta Rabbits, who beat Pittsburg, 6-5.  All three schools are 3-2, while Paris, L-E, and Pitt are just a game behind at 2-3.

The race could get even tighter after Friday’s action.  Paris, now 12-9-1 for the season, hosts Atlanta, while L-E visits PG, and NL travels to Pitt.  Wins by Paris, L-E, and Pitt Friday would create an incredible 6-way tie down the homestretch.

“I like our attitude,” Paris coach Bill Sikes said.  “The guys didn’t get down (after starting district 0-3).  We’ve had some great practices the past couple of weeks, and they’ve responded and done everything we’ve asked them to do.”

The Cats pounded out 13 hits Tuesday against a trio of L-E pitchers.  Meanwhile, starting pitcher Kaden Callihan ran into problems in the third inning when the Leopards scored all four of their runs to take a temporary 4-2 lead.  Sikes brought in his nephew, freshman Phillip Sikes (2-2), who pitched the final 3⅔ innings.

“We hit the ball extremely hard,” Sikes said.  “Kaden got us off to a good start, then our bullpen shut them down.”

Paris scored single runs in the first and second innings off RBI singles by Jake Clark and Sikes to take a 2-0 lead, but Callihan walked the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters to start the L-E third.  The first Leopard run scored on a sacrifice fly before designated hitter Javon Rigsby unloaded a 2-run homer over the leftfield wall to give L-E a 3-2 lead.

Rashaan Donelson then blasted a double to the left-centerfield gap and scored from second on a wild pitch to pad the lead to 4-2.  When Callihan walked the No. 8 hitter again with 1 out in the fourth, Sikes was summoned to the mound from his rightfield post.  He got the second out on a sacrifice bunt then struck out leadoff hitter Alex Norwood to end the inning.

The Cats tied the game, 4-4, with a pair of runs in their half of the fourth.  Drew Helberg started the inning with a leadoff single, and Jack Kraft drew a walk on 4 straight balls.  First baseman Philip Nance failed to get a bunt down to advance the runners only to slap a single into centerfield to score Helberg.  Kraft alertly scored from first when the centerfielder bobbled the ball.

Paris broke the game open with a 5-run fifth.  Clark led off with a double to rightfield and Jordan Williams tripled to right-center.  Kraft drove in Williams with a hard single off the second baseman’s glove.  An infield single by Nance and a passed ball put runners at the corners with 1 out when Jonathan Nichols‘ popup to shallow right-centerfield dropped between 4 L-E fielders and scored Kraft.

That made it a 7-4 game, and Sikes delivered the coup de grace with a 2-run triple to right-center and a commanding 9-4 lead.  Williams produced the final run in the sixth on an infield single.

Meanwhile, Sikes was outstanding in relief.  He retired 7 straight batters before giving up a hit and walk with 2 outs in the sixth.  He got a called third strike to end the inning and finished with a 1-2-3 seventh.  He allowed just the 1 hit and 1 walk to go with 8 strikeouts.

Offensively, Sikes went 2 for 3 with 3 RBI.  The big gun was junior cleanoff hitter Williams who was 3 for 4 with 2 RBI.  Nance broke out of a prolonged slump with a 3 for 3 showing and 1 RBI.  Clark was 2 for 3 with an RBI.