Hunter Hollan got by Friday night with a little help from his friends.
The junior lefty withstood eight base hits and struck out nine, while pocketing a 1-0 shutout for the Spring Hill Panthers in their Class 4A regional quarterfinal sweep of the Van Vandals at Mike Carter Field.
Hollan overcame leadoff base hits by the Vandals in three of the first four innings to corral his sixth win of the season.
The Panthers (23-10-1) advance to the regional semifinals and await the winner of the Benbroke-Crandall series.
Baseball is a funny game. One night removed from an 11-run, 16-hit rout of the Vandals, the Panthers were outhit in Friday's eight to five.
The Panthers always answered when the phone rang and got stellar defense in the field behind Hollan.
Patience at the plate paid dividends when Ryan Lepire drew a bases loaded walk and forced in Caden Noah from third for what proved to be the game-winning run. The Panthers saw several other scoring opportunities go awry and left nine base runners stranded
Give credit to Van right-hander Hoss Brewer. He more than stood his ground against a potent Panther lineup. Brewer, who pulled off a stunner last Saturday night against Bullard, was equal to the task against Friday and Keith Touchstone took notice.
"You got to give that kid credit. I know now why they beat Bullard. He's good on the mound," Touchstone said.
After the Panthers went quietly in the top half of the first, the Vandals got lead off hitter Chase Richardson on when he hit a high chopper in front of home plate. Hollan was unable to gather it in and Richardson was safe in an infield hit. Half of the Vandal base hits were of the infield variety. Hollan caught Richardson tarrying too far off first base and erased him in a pickoff 1-3-6 as Avant twirled to Trent Gregson and he applied the tag.
This seemed to calm the seas a bit as Hollan blew a fast ball past Brewer for out number two. Manny Moore, Thursday's starter for the Vandals, lined a shot just inside the right field line for a triple. Knowing runs were likely to be at a premium, the Vandals attempted to steal home with Moore. Jonas Roberts, who has been a rock behind the plate for the Panthers, aptly applied the tag to end the first.
Spring Hill could do nothing with Colin Martin one-out infield single in the second and Hollan took just 10 pitches to complete his half of the frame. Ty Cook was a statue on a curve ball and Trevor Worley went down on three offerings.
Dylan Hutchison slapped a two-out single to left in the third and advanced 90 feet on a passed ball. But Brewer was able to get Logan Avant looking and any damaged was avoided.
Ry Woodard jumped on Hollan's first pitch of the third and drove it deep over the head of Ethan Tidwell in center for a lead off double. Jackson Rainey was inserted as a courtesy runner for Woodard and became the victim of a Roberts to Gregson pickoff. Rainey drifted too far off the bag and Roberts tossed a pill down to Gregson for the easy out.
"I thought defensively we were on our game today. We just need to come out and do what we do," said Touchstone. "What we control is how we pitch and how we play defense. Throwing strikes and make the routine play is what we try to hang our hat on."
For the third straight inning, the Panthers managed a hit as Craig Hunnicutt took one the opposite way to right with two in the books. But like the previous two before, Hunnicutt would be left standing on the bag.
Hollan sustained back-to-back infield hits to start the Vandal half of the fourth. Some heads up defensive work enabled Gregson to field a grounder in the hole at short and cut down the lead runner with a nifty relay to Hutchison. Cook clubbed a shot to left, but Brewer was held at third after Martin quickly retrieved the end and got it back in the infield. Looking at ducks on the pond and only one out, Hollan fielded a grounder back to the mound forced Brewer at home and Roberts gunned it down to Avant at first to get Cole Catlin with an unconventional 1-2-3 twin-killing.
"I know that I have seven people behind me and a bad to the bone behind the plate," Hollan said. "I know that if I just throw strikes, my team's gonna make plays behind me."
Noah's single back up the middle with one out in the fifth was followed by Gregson working a full-count free pass and Avant wearing one to load the bases. There were now two outs recorded when Lepire stepped in and , like Gregson, drew a full-count walk. Noah was able to trot home and Lepier collected what would be the game-winning RBI.
Hollan was dealing in the fifth and sixth, striking out the side in the fifth and only needing eight pitches to get out of the sixth. The excitement was not quite over as Trevor Worley blooped a double down the line in right with two outs in the Vandal half of the seventh. Lepire showed his glove in the field to be as good as his eye at the plate when he made back-to-back defensive gems. Worley stood at second and Ry Woodard was issued an intentional walk, putting the potential winning run at first base. This was to get to Jeron Walker, who Hollan had struckout in two previous at bats. Walker hit a hard grounder to Gregson at short and he forced Rainey at second to end the game and send the Panthers to the next round.