Maple Leafs Beat Panthers, Take Over First Place

By Rob Vona

The Toronto Maple Leafs took back first place in the Intercounty Baseball League (IBL) after a 14-6 win over the Kitchener Panthers on Wednesday night at Dominico Field. 

“I know it's still early in the season … we knew this game was for first place and even though it’s early, we were ready to play,” said Maple Leafs catcher Justin Marra postgame.

First year Maple Leaf Julian Valdez took home his first win in the IBL after going five strong innings of one-run baseball while striking out five batters. 

Valdez surrendered his only run in the top of the first inning when the Panthers started the game off with back-to-back hits, a single followed by a double. 

With two runners in scoring position, the IBL batting average leader Raul Gonzalez chopped a ball to third, Maple Leafs third baseman Johnathan Solazzo swiftly fielded the bouncing ball and threw out Gonzalez at first base while the leadoff hitter Blake Jacklin crossed the plate to open the scoring. 

Valdez settled down and struck out the next three batters he faced - all of them swinging. 

The Maple Leafs responded with a run of their own in the bottom of the second inning, a leadoff single from Dan Marra followed by a single from J.J. Dutton and a walk from Ryan Dos Santos led to shortstop Jose Vinicio stepping up to the plate with the bases loaded.

The 29-year-old delivered with a base hit to right field, the first runner scored easily but a strong throw from Panthers right-fielder Jett Jarvis gunned down Dutton at the plate, preventing the Maple Leafs from taking the early lead.

The bats from the Maple Leafs stayed hot as they scored five runs in the bottom of the third inning.

Back-to-back hits from Solazzo and Dan Marra gave the team a 3-1 lead. 

A walk from Greg Carrington and a single from the DH Aidan McAskie loaded the bases for Dutton.

The 20-year-old hit a single that got past the opposing first baseman Keegan Marsden, allowing for the runners to circle the bases as the ball kicked off of his glove and towards the fence. Suddenly, the Maple Leafs led 6-1. 

Justin Marra scored the lone run for the Maple Leafs in the bottom of the fourth, a solo blast that cleared the right centre-field fence to make it a 7-1 ballgame.

“I had an idea of what he was going to throw me,” said Marra. “A lot of times after the fastball he’ll come back with a slider.”  

A fielder’s choice off of the bat of Vinicio and a balk from Panthers starting pitcher Yamichel Perez extended the Maple Leafs lead to eight, as they now led 9-1. 

The visiting Panthers plated five runs in the seventh and eighth innings via two walks, a wild pitch and a pair RBI singles, the Maple Leafs however matched their run total by responding with five runs of their own in the same innings thanks to another RBI base hit from Solazzo and a pair of ground balls from Vinicio and Justin Marra, making it a score of 14-6.

Wilgenis Alvarado, the Aragua, Venezuela native entered the game in the ninth inning for the Maple Leafs in hopes of turning the page from his last appearance on Sunday that saw him take the loss after he walked five batters in one-and-one-third innings pitched.

Alvarado made quick work of the Panthers last chance at a comeback, striking out the side - all looking - to secure the win for his squad. 

“We’re lucky to have him [Alvarado] on the team now,” said catcher Justin Marra. “His fastball is really good, he uses it effectively so when he’s pounding the fastball he’s hitting the zone and getting ahead of guys, it just makes that slider all the more effective.”

Marra added that he is happy to see Alvarado move on from his first appearance, and that the team has a lot of depth which will help in a long season.

The Maple Leafs open up a three-game stretch against the Hamilton Cardinals on Friday as they travel to Bernie Arbour Memorial Stadium, first pitch is set for 7:35 p.m.