DEFENSE THE DIFFERENCE: Carroll County catcher Austin Dunn (above) tags out Trimble County’s Jordan Tingle at home and Panthers’ shortstop Trey Boles (below, 11) throws to first on a ground ball up the middle as second baseman Zach Beckham backs up the play. (Staff photos by Mark Campbell)
DEFENSE THE DIFFERENCE: Carroll County catcher Austin Dunn (above) tags out Trimble County’s Jordan Tingle at home and Panthers’ shortstop Trey Boles (below, 11) throws to first on a ground ball up the middle as second baseman Zach Beckham backs up the play. (Staff photos by Mark Campbell)
With just three games under its belt and not much time for practice due to fickle early season weather, Trimble County accomplished a lot more on Wednesday than was indicated by the final score at Carroll County.

The Raiders got a solid start out of senior right-hander Jordan Tingle, some solid plays out of its interior defense and the team put up its first runs of the season after back-to-back mercy rule shutouts to Kentucky Country Day and Spencer County.

All that added up to a solid outing on a day in which the Panthers still drubbed the Raiders 12-2 in five innings.

"We made improvements today. We really did," Trimble head coach Frank Ragland said. "That's the first runs we've scored all year. The other day we only had one hit as a team and today I think we had about six of them.

"We hit the ball decent and our pitchers for the most part threw strikes today," Ragland added. "We've been struggling with that. Believe it or not it, was a better day than in our first two outings."

Count Carroll head coach Jimmy Ray equally satisfied with the way his Panthers played. Carroll, which has struggled for hits this season, produced 10 on Wednesday and the Panthers got stronger as the game wore on with a four-run third, three-run fourth and five-run fifth inning to put the game away.

"We struggled there the first couple of innings with their guy throwing that curveball," Ray said of Tingle. "We acted like we'd never seen a curveball before. But he throws it well. He was throwing it on 3-1 and throwing it on full count and whatever. He threw it all the time.

"Hitting is going to be our worst part but I think we'll figure that out in a little bit," Ray added. "Our pitching throws strikes well and our defense is pretty solid but we've got to work on putting the bat on the ball a little bit better."

Tingle struck out two Panthers in the first and three in the second and the Raiders drew first blood in the top of the third when Ryan Wright drew a two-out walk that was followed by a bloop single to right by Tingle and a single to center by Andrew Young that scored Wright for a 1-0 lead.

However, the Panthers' defense came up big on the play by gunning down Tingle at the plate to end the inning and stop the bleeding before the visitors could do more damage.

Carroll answered in the bottom of the third with a big two-out rally of its own.

Tingle sandwiched a walk to Carroll's Zach Beckham between another pair of strikeouts, but that's when the wheels started to wobble a little. Beckham advanced to third on an errant throw and Jacob Wise singled to shortstop on a ball that took a high kick off the infield, leading to an overthrow to first that scored Beckham.

A second walk by Tingle put Austin Dunn on base and a single to right by Trey Boles scored Wise before John Michael Adams belted a two-run double to right-center for a 4-1 Carroll lead.

"(Tingle) got in a little trouble when they had a couple of balls that squeaked through the infield," Ragland said. "There was that one that took a funky hop and I can't remember who they had on base but he had some wheels. Even if we make that play clean, I don't think we can get him. That got the ball rolling for them."

Carroll retired Trimble in order in the fourth and the Panthers went right back to work in the bottom of the inning against Young, who had come on in relief of Tingle.

Once again, a two-out rally inflicted all the damage as Carroll strung together another single by Beckham with a single by Dillon Craig and a walk by Wise before Dunn legged out a grounder to second to score two runs and Boles beat out another grounder to second to score another run for a 7-1 Carroll lead.

Trimble answered with a run in the top of the fifth when Kyle Sparks singled to the gap between third and shortstop - a ball Adams couldn't get to up front and Boles fielded too late from behind to throw out the runner. It was one of the few grounder to the left side of the Carroll infield that Boles or Adams failed to scoop up in time to record the out all day.

"Their shortstop made a lot of nice plays in the hole," Ragland said of Boles.

"We did pretty good. Defense is the key," Ray said. "We fielded the ball today, we didn't make any errors and I think Trey (Boles) made several nice back-handed plays in the hole at short that were big and a couple of times we had bang-bang plays in the infield that we were safe on and that helps make things happen."

With runners at the corners, Craig got Wright to pop up to the catcher for the second out but before he could get all the way out of the inning Tingle rapped an RBI single to center to score Sparks and Young singled to left to load the bases before Jacob Lindon's grounder to first finally ended the Trimble's final threat.

Carroll then closed out the game in five innings by scoring five more runs in the bottom of the fifth to invoke the mercy rule as Keifer McIntyre was hit by a pitch, Chase Osbourne walked, Zakk Hicks' deep shot to right was errored, Beckham singled to left, Craig walked, Wise lifted a sacrifice fly to center, Austin Dunn walked and Adams singled to center for the final runs.

Ray said Wednesday's game is a good indication of what the Panthers can accomplish by playing solid defense behind a solid pitching.

"Dillon is very good at location. He doesn't overpower a lot of people but he throws strikes and that's the name of the game," Ray said. "He changes speeds well and he's got real good composure. He doesn't get rattled out there and you can always count on him to throw strikes.

"But defense has been the difference," Ray added. "In the games we've gotten beat our defense didn't show up."

With the win, Carroll (3-2) opened one of its busiest stretches of the season. The Panthers are scheduled to play eight games in nine days with only Easter Sunday off between now and Carroll's next break in the schedule on April 6-8.

Ray said that after seeing so many early season games canceled by weather, both he and the team are ready to get into that grind.

"We worked our butts off to get this field ready to play today because I was tired of being in the gym and being in the parking lot," Ray said.

While the Raiders are out of action until an April 4 trip to Gallatin County, Ragland is just as anxious to get on the field and start fixing the things that will make his team better.

"There are little things that we've still got to work on. We kicked a lot of plays today that we should have made - routine plays that you've got to make, that there's no reason for us not to make," Ragland said.

"We're not schedule to play again until next Thursday so hopefully we're going to get some good weather and we're going to get some good quality practice time outside because that's what we need," Ragland said. "We need to play and we need practice time. What we really need is for the weather to cooperate in both cases. To play games or to practice we need weather to cooperate."