Right-hander Bronson Gillam held Sterlington in check as Evangel defeated the Panthers 3-1 in the Class 2A state championship game Wednesday night.

Bronson Gillam held Sterlington to three hits as Evangel claimed the Class 2A state championship with a 3-1 victory Wednesday night at ULM’s Warhawk Field.

Evangel (31-4) did all of its damage in the bottom of the third.

Consecutive one-out singles by Kade Garlington, Connor Castellano and Seth Bamburg put the Eagles up 1-0. Gillam, batting from the No. 5 slot, walked to load the bases.

Brandon Spencer’s high chopper to Panthers’ second baseman Patrick Sutton resulted in a force play for the second out, but enabled Castellano to score. After Roy Johnson was intentionally passed to jam the sacks, Bamburg crossed home on a wild pitch.

Another walk to Will Russ reloaded the bases, before Reeves got out of the inning with a popup to first baseman Stephen Gandy in foul territory.

Reeves allowed only two more base runners the rest of the way, but Gillam had all the run support he would need.

“That one inning,” Reeves sighed. “It hurts a lot getting this close and coming up that short.”

The top of the fourth summarized the game for the Panthers (26-9), who settled for an unearned run in the top of the fourth after loading the bases with nobody out without the ball leaving the infield. Sterlington left runners aboard in every inning but the first and stranded a total of nine.

Clay Branton and Logan Dopson were both safe on throwing errors to start the inning and Clint Branton was hit by a pitch to fill the basepaths.

Francis Rodriguez’s squeeze bunt plated Clay Branton to put the Panthers on the board.

Gillam, a 6-4, 245-pound junior righthander, avoided further damage with a groundout and an inning-ending punchout.

“We’ve been getting the key hit all year long, but things just didn’t fall our way tonight,” said Sterlington coach Randy Carr. “That’s a credit to their pitcher. (Gillam) did a great job. Evangel has a tremendous, tremendous baseball team. (Evangel coach) Tim Hulett and his guys have a lot of class.”

Sterlington wasted a leadoff walk to Cole Bagbey, who stole second, in the fifth and a two-out free pass to Rodriguez in the sixth.

Refusing to go down quietly, the Panthers brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the seventh.

Leading off the frame, Sutton was grazed by a pitch off the elbow. With one away, Thomas Giddens punched a base hit to right field, leaving runners at the corners.

Just as he had done the entire game, Gillam reached back for a little extra with trouble brewing.

Evangel catcher Brandon Spencer tracked down a popup in front of the Evangel bench for the second out and Gillam closed out a masterful effort with his eighth strikeout of the game.

“(Gillam) threw a heck of a game,” Reeves said. “I can’t take anything away from him.”
Making his fifth appearance of the playoffs, including his fourth start, Reeves (14-2) deserved a better fate. Pitching on consecutive nights — he worked three innings to earn the win in the Panthers’ 7-2 victory over St. Thomas Aquinas — Reeves struck out three, walked five and scattered seven hits.

“Chad Reeves pitched his guts out just as he has all year, especially during the playoffs,” Carr said.

After Gillam set the Panthers down in order in the top of the first, Reeves pitched around Costellano’s two-out single and a walk to Bamburg.

Clay Branton singled up the middle and moved into scoring position on Dopson’s groundout. Spencer then made a play on a foul popup near the Sterlington bench on the sprint, before Gillam retired the side with a popup to first base.

Spencer opened the second with an opposite-field double off the left field wall, but Reeves picked off the Eagles’ courtesy runner before throwing another pitch.

Gillam plunked Tim Cain in the back to start the third. Sutton followed with a flair to shallow center field, but was robbed of a hit when Chris Beck stretched out face first to make the catch for the first out.

Bagbey legged out an infield single to place runners at first and second, but again the Panthers came away empty.

Castellano, the Eagles’ lefty swinging first baseman, went 3-for-3 with a double to pace a seven-hit attack. Spencer doubled and Garlington, Bamburg and Back added singles.

Sterlington received base hits from Bagbey, Giddens and Clay Branton.

“You can’t win a ballgame with only three hits,” Giddens said. “We played good defense (the Panthers did not commit an error in the tournament). They jumped on us that one inning, and we couldn’t get back up. If you have runners in scoring position, you should score.”

Evangel, which lost to District 1-2A rival Calvary Baptist in last year’s championship game, won its first state title since capturing the Class 1A crown in 2006.