MIDLOTHIAN — Back-to-back-to-back wins is a great way to start the second round of a district schedule — especially given the up-and-down ride Midlothian High School has faced this baseball season. The Panthers notched their third consecutive victory Tuesday night, knocking off Mansfield Timberview High School 7-0 at Panther Field with an awakening of bats and a dominant no-hitter. Though Midlothian (8-14-2, 5-4) streaked into the matchup after earning victories against Lancaster and Mansfield Summit High Schools, the win was a mirror image of the two teams first matchup — a 1-0 finish in favor of Mansfield's Wolves.
"The win against (Mansfield) Legacy made it two in a row and tonight makes it three. It's the first time all season we've won back-to-back games and hopefully we're going in the right direction," Panther Head Coach Ray Hydes said. "The difference between the first game and this one was that we left about 12 men on base in the first one. We left the bases loaded. We couldn't get a big hit or a run to come across. I was sitting there thinking if we could get a fly ball, we could tie the thing up."
Anthony Ferrante, who added 1-for-3 and one-RBI performance on Tuesday, started Midlothian's three-game streak with a game-winning, walk-off single. The juice behind the rejuvenated Panthers, though, is more about a single hit.
It's about several.
While staff ace Russ Smith threw a nine strikeout, no-hit complete game, the Panthers' batters that sputtered through the first 23 games roared to life in the 24th.
"Tonight when we got guys in scoring position we had a better approach at the plate," Hydes continued. "We got big hits, took some walks and drove in some runs. Don't get me wrong, Russ did a great job, but it was the first time all year he had run support. All his games have been 1-0 and 2-1. I didn't think he had as good of stuff tonight as he has in the past, but he didn't have to be perfect. He found a way to get ahead in the count and win the battles, but the bottom line is that you need batting. When you have both working, you have a chance to beat anyone."
Six different Panthers earned hits and RBIs and eight players reached base via walks. It was also the third straight game four or fewer batters logged strikeouts.
Led by Drake Girard and Mason Quinn's combined four hits and two RBIs in six at-bats, Midlothian battered Mansfield Timberview's Zachary Cobb, broke a three-inning deadlock and scored two or more runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
Cobb, the Wolves' starter, pitched only 3.2 innings while walking six batters, committing three errors and allowing three runs on three hits. Tres Thomas, his relief for a single inning, allowed two more on four hits.
The two boys finished with a combined 11.30 earned run average.
The Panthers, which forcefully inserted themselves into the 5A playoff picture, face a daunting task to secure their postseason future. Standing directly in their path is the district-leading Waxahachie High School, which dispatched Red Oak High School 6-2 on Tuesday and laid claim to the 10-5A No. 1 seed.
They will also face Mansfield Lake Ridge during the next week of play. Midlothian is locked in a three-way tie for fourth place with the Eagles and Wolves.
"These kids have worked hard all year and haven't goofed around. I think we see the ball better and have got some kids that are hitting the ball better," Hydes said. "With all those factors filling in, we feel like it's starting to pay off. We're still on the outside looking in. We've got a huge game on Thursday against Waxahachie and it's tough to go over there and play. They're good and winning the district and its always a battle when we play them. We just have to take care of our own business and take the season one game at a time."
He and the Panthers face Waxahachie's Indians at 7 p.m. Thursday at Richards Park. Midlothian won the pitcher's duel between Russ Smith and Levi David 1-0 in nine innings on March 21.
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.