By Mark Clark
The baseball season came to an end for the Central High Red Devils last weekend in the first round of the AHSAA Class 7A playoffs in Prattville. The Red Devils took the Lions to a Game 3 in the three-game series to determine which team would advance to the second round to play McGill-Toolen High of Mobile. Prattville won the deciding game 8-3.
“Chalk it up to what you want, but we just did not hit the ball. That’s the bottom line,” Central coach A.J. Kehoe said of the series with Prattville. “We did not do the things we needed to do to win. We had three or four instances where things could have really changed had we gotten the job done. We missed some big opportunities.”
Central had to play on the road in the first round against Prattville after losing its three-game Area 4 series with Auburn High three games to none. Central had the advantage on paper entering the series, needing to win one of the first two games to win the area title. But, Auburn swept the Red Devils 1-0, 7-6 and 5-1 to win the area and to earn a spot as a host team in the first round of the playoffs.
“We play in the toughest area in the state. I said all along that there would be a fine line between making the playoffs and missing them. We swept the No. 1 ranked team to get an opportunity to reach the playoffs and had a chance to win the area with one more win. But, Auburn is the defending state champion and competes each season. You really have to remain focused to get through the area games. We play 30 or so meaningless games to get ready to play four area games that count, six if you have to rely on the tiebreaker games. You have to keep coming up with ways to make those meaningless games mean something. You have to find ways to keep the kids focused”
In Game 1 with Prattville, the Red Devils won 3-2 to gain the early momentum in the series. Central pitcher Tyler Haines allowed four hits and struck out nine over 5.1 innings on the mound. He saw Prattville plate two runs in the first inning to lead 2-0. Neither of the runs was earned.
Peyton Burton got the last two outs, striking out two Lions, to earn the save.
After Prattville took the 2-0 lead in the first inning, Central battled back to take a 3-2 lead in the top of the fourth. In that inning, Jay Kehoe got the Red Devils going with a lead-off single. He advanced to second on a passed ball. Noah Butler followed with a walk. Jeremy Thorn was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Gage Tillery singled to drive in Kehoe. Butler tried to advance home on the hit, but was thrown out for the first out of the inning. P.J. Ramsey’s single drove in Thorn to tie the contest at 2-2. Bryce Davis followed with anoth-er single to drive in Tillery to make the score 3-2 which Central held on to for the win.
At the plate, Ramsey was 2-for-2 to lead Central. D.J. Rias was 2-for-4 and Davis was 1-for-2.
Central matched its total in the second game of the series, but lost 9-3 as Prattville scored four runs in the third inning and five more in the seventh for its runs.
Central scored all three of its runs in the seventh inning on a single, a double and a passed ball.
Tommy Vickers took the pitching loss for Central though he allowed only three hits over three innings while striking out six. He left with the score at 4-0, but did not allow an earned run. Burton came in to relieve Vickers in the fourth inning, but could not stem the Prattville scoring. Thorn finished the game on the mound for Central and gave up a final run to the Lions.
Ramsey was 1-for-2 at the plate to lead Central while Brayden Pelkey, Butler and Davis were each 1-for-3 in the loss for the Red Devils.
In the third game, there was no score through four and a half innings. Prattville took the lead and the eventual victory with six runs in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Bryce Sanders went 4.2 innings on the mound for Central and took the loss, He gave up one earned run of the five Prattville scored before he left the contest. Zion Morris gave up the final three runs in relief,
With Prattville up 6-0, Central rallied for three runs in the sixth to get within striking distance of a comeback. Morris started the sixth inning with a double and Pelkey followed with a walk. Kehoe hit a three-run home run to clear the bases with one out.
Prattville added two more runs in the bottom of the inning to make the final score 8-3.
Morris was 1-for-1 with a double to lead Central’s hitters. Mason Davis, Pelkey and Tillery were each 1-for-2. Tillery also had a double. Kehoe was 1-for-3 with his home run and three RBIs.
Central finished the season 21-18-1 and placed second in Area 4.