The Toronto Maple Leafs season came to a sudden end Thursday night at Jack Couch Stadium in Kitchener.
Brian Burton clubbed a game-winning, two-run home run off reliever Justin Cicatello in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the host Panthers a dramatic 3-1 win over the Leafs and a berth in the IBL semifinals.
The Leafs drop the best-of-seven quarterfinal series, 4-1, and fall to Kitchener for the second-straight season in the opening round. The Panthers will now take on the Hamilton Cardinals in one semi, while the five-time defending champion Barrie Baycats will host the Welland Jackfish in the other.
With the game tied 1-1 and Cicatello (1-1) on in relief of starter Chris Leroux, Kitchener’s Tanner Nivins led off the bottom of the ninth with a single, but Mike Gordner grounded into a fielder’s choice for the first out. That brought up Brian Burton with Gordner aboard. The outfielder took a first pitch ball and then drilled the next pitch over the fence for the series win.
The Leafs, who were looking to stave off elimination, got an outstanding effort on the mound from Leroux. The former major leaguer gave up just one run on three hits and a walk, while striking out 10 over eight impressive innings. Unfortunately for Toronto, Kitchener starter Jasvir Rakkar was just as dominate. The right-hander went seven innings, giving up just a run on four hits. He struck out nine.
Brady Schnarr (1-0) tossed two shutout innings to pick up the win, giving up just a hit and a walk. He struck out four.
The Panthers took advantage of one of Leroux’s few miscues to take an early lead in the bottom of the second inning. With Nivins on third and two out, a Leroux balk brought him home. Zac Orchard got the Leafs back on even ground in the fourth, when he looked at a first-pitch ball and then took Rakkar deep.