Auburn sweeps Central, wins area title

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By Mark Clark

The Central High Red Devils will enter the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 7A playoffs tomorrow afternoon, but it will not begin the postseason as it had hoped. The Red Devils had a chance to go into the playoffs as the Area 4 champions if they had split the first two games of its three-game series with Auburn High last week. Instead, the Tigers swept Central to earn the area title and gained the opportunity to play host to Enterprise High in the opening round of the playoffs. Central, on the other hand, will now start the playoffs on the road at Prattville High, a team that defeated the Red Devils in a doubleheader two weeks ago.

“We haven’ got time to look back on the Auburn series right now. It was just a series of missed opportunities on our part. In the first game, both pitchers threw well enough to win. We made some mistakes and they took advantage of them in the second game. Now, we have to get ready to face a good Prattville team that beat us in a doubleheader earlier this year. I think it will be a fun series. Our guys are excited to get this thing started. Nothing anybody has done so far matters now. Everybody is starting over,” Central coach A.J. Kehoe said.

Central lost the first game of the series with Auburn 1-0 at Darnell-Nelson Field despite an excellent pitching performance from Tyler Haines. Haines, a sophomore, went the distance, allowed four hits and struck out five. The lone run was unearned in the second inning.

In the second inning, Auburn’s lead-off batter reached base on a dropped third strike. The next batter struck out. Then the Tigers’ runner stole second. A single moved the runner to third. The runner scored when the next batter hit a sacrifice fly to left that should have been the third out. A ground out ended the inning.

Central stranded runners in scoring position in each of the next three innings – one at second and two at third. In the sixth inning, Central had two runners on base, but saw the inning come to an end when a runner attempted to reach third from first on a single and was thrown out.

Central had five hits in the game. Brayden Pelkey had two hits in three trips to the plate to lead the Red Devils. He also had a double in the loss. D.J. Rias, Noah Butler and Jeremy Thorn had the other three hits.

Central went into final inning to decide the outcome of the second game of the series, a 7-6 win for the Tigers that gave them the area title. Tommy Vickers started the game for Central and went 3.1 innings before stepping aside for Peyton Burton to finish the final 3.1 innings.  Only five of Auburn’s seven runs were earned, including the game winner in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Central scored a pair of runs in the top of the fourth to take a 2-0 lead. With two outs, Thorn singled, Gage Tillery walked and P.J. Ramsey singled to load the bases. Thorn scored on a passed ball, Bryce Davis walked to reload the bases. Rias followed with a walk that forced home Tillery with the second run.

Auburn scored five runs in the bottom of the inning to take a 5-2 lead, but the Red Devils scored three runs in the top of the fifth to tie the game once more. Pelkey reached base with a single and Jay Kehoe reached on an error to start the fifth inning. Butler then hit a three-run home run to tie the contest at 5-5.

Auburn regained the lead in the bottom of the inning and led 6-5 heading into the top of the seventh. Central tied the game for a third time in the top of the seventh inning. Ramsey reached base on a fielder’s choice that put the Red Devils one out away from losing. But, Davis doubled to drive in Ramsey to tie the game at 6-6.

In the bottom of the seventh, Burton struck out the lead-off batter for Auburn for the first out. He walked the second batter, who then stole second. The next batter popped out to Tillery for the second out. The next batter reached on an error that allowed the winning run to score.

Mason Davis was 3-for-4 at the plate to lead Central. Thorn was 2-for-4. Mason Davis and Bryce Davis both had doubles.

In the third game of the series, Auburn won 5-1. Bryce Sanders took the pitching loss for Central. He went five innings, allowed seven hits and struck out six. Bryce Davis, Bryce Sanders and Rias were each 1-for-2 at the plate to lead Central’s hitters.

Central will be at Prattville tomorrow afternoon for a doubleheader to open the 7A playoffs at 5 p.m. EDT. A third game, if necessary, will be played on Saturday at 1 p.m. EDT.. Central enters the series with a 20-16-1 record and ranked No. 9 while Prattville is 32-7 and ranked at No. 8.