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Gardner-South Wilmington rallies late to rout Dwight in regional baseball

GARDNER — Gardner-South Wilmington baseball coach Allan Wills couldn't have dreamed of a better scenario Monday in the Panthers' 10-0 win in the Class 1A Putnam County Regional quarterfinal against Dwight.

Late in the game, his team was up 1-0 with the bases loaded and his best hitter coming to the plate with a chance to break it open.

"You always hope you get into a situation like that," Wills said.

The events of the bottom of the fifth inning then played out perfectly for Wills and the GSW faithful. Panther pitcher Braden Marks had flirted with disaster on more than one occasion early in the game, as Dwight left runners in scoring position in the first three innings but failed to get any across. Meanwhile, the GSW offense was having a bit of trouble getting a read on Dwight pitcher Logan Graham through the first four innings.

In the fifth, though, Joe Morales led off with a ringing double to left and Sean Hansen followed by reaching on an error on a ball hit to short. Graham walked Mike Wise to load the bases before striking out Cade Kociss to bring up the top of the Panther order. Nathan Wozniak coaxed a walk out of Graham to force in the game's first run before Austin Kavanaugh stepped to the plate.

Kavanaugh did what a team leader is supposed to do and the lefty-hitting catcher ripped a Graham offering down the first-base line. When the ball scooted away from the Dwight right fielder, all the runners came home and Kavanaugh was at third, with GSW holding a 4-0 lead.

"That's exactly what we wanted," Wills said. "But, what a good job by the bottom of the order to set it all up, started by Joe Morales, our six hitter, with that double and then Sean Hansen squared a ball up nice that ate up their shortstop. And Austin, he's been doing that for us all year. That's why we want him up in that situation."

For Kavanaugh, it was a case of not trying to do too much.

"I just wanted to make good contact," he said. "If you do that, anything can happen. It feels good to be able to keep playing."

GSW wasn't done scoring yet, though, as they roughed up a couple of Dwight relievers for six more runs in the bottom of the sixth and turned what was a close game into a blowout. For their efforts, the seventh-seeded Panthers (16-14) get to travel to Putnam County on Wednesday and take on top-seeded Ottawa Marquette.

The sixth-inning outburst was started by Connor Hays, who singled to right and then stole second. Morales walked before the speedy Hays stole third. Two strikeouts followed, bringing up freshman Cade Kociss, who singled to left to score both Hays and Morales, who had earlier stolen second, for a 6-0 lead.

Wozniak walked and Marks was hit by a pitch, loading the bases for Kavanaugh once again. Kavanaugh walked, forcing in Kociss before Matt Wepprecht, who had doubled earlier in the game, blooped a double to short center that chased home all three runners to make it 10-0 and ended the game due to the 10-run rule.

"Matt has been coming through for us like that all year," Wills said. "If teams are going to pitch around Austin, he's there behind him to make them pay."

Marks finished with a four-hitter, striking out five, walking four and hitting two batters.

"My curve wasn't working very well early," he said. "But [catcher] Austin [Kavanaugh] kept me calm and told me to just throw strikes and let my defense work behind me. I know if I get them to hit it anywhere near center field in the air that Connor is going to track it down and catch it.

"After we scored the four runs, I was able to get through the next inning quick, so I was hoping we could keep scoring, and we did."

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