Central breaks out the brooms!

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Red Devils sweep 3-game series with Panthers

By Mark Clark

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The chances of playing the top two teams in Class 7A in the same week are slim. The chances of beating both of them in that same week are slimmer. But, the slimmest chance of facing the top two teams is when those two teams are the same team.

Central High’s Red Devils baseball team did all three of the above last week when they swept a three-game series with area rival Smiths Station High. The Panthers were ranked No. 1 in Class 7A by the Alabama Sports Writers Association when they met Central for a single game to begin the series in Smiths Station. Two days later, when the two teams met for a doubleheader at Darnell-Nelson Field, the Panthers had dropped a spot to No.2 because of the loss to Central in the single game.

The Red Devils had to rally from a 5-0 deficit in the first game at Smiths Station to win 6-5 in the top of the seventh inning. In the second game of the series, Central shut out the Panthers 5-0. Those two games count in the area standings. The third game is used as a tiebreaker. So, to leave no doubt which team was the better squad last Friday, the Red Devils took the third game of the series 6-3, rallying from a 3-0 deficit the Panthers took in the top of the first inning.

“I am so proud of these kids. We beat a very talented baseball club. It was a great series for us. After we got behind in the first game, I just told the kids to focus on scratching back with a few runs at a time. That is what they did. In the second game, Tommy Vickers pitched a great game for us and our hitting and defense was there to support him, Central coach A.J. Kehoe said of his team’s efforts against Smiths Station.

Kehoe’s team did what he had asked it to do a week earlier when it was preparing to play the top-ranked Panthers.

“I told the kids we have to win the freebie war – no free outs, no extra bases. I told them we would have to have some two-out hits and we got some. I told them we had to keep playing defense like we have all year. And, I told them we had to keep throwing strikes and letting the defense do its job. Another thing we have to do is put the pressure on our opponents by stealing bases and taking those extra bases on hits,” Kehoe said of his team’s philosophy for winning.

Smiths Station took a 1-0 lead in Game 1 of the series in the bottom of the first inning with a solo home run by Hunter Donaldson. By the end of the fourth inning, the Panthers had scored five runs with only the solo home run by Donaldson being earned.

The Red Devils took their first steps toward a comeback with three runs in the top of the fifth inning. With two outs, Bryce Davis doubled on a line drive to left and moved on to third on a passed ball. D.J. Rias  drove Davis across the plate for Central’s first run with a single to left. Mason Davis doubled to center to put runners at second and third. Brayden Pelkey drove in both runners with a double to center. When the inning closed, Smiths Station’s lead had bee cut to two runs at 5-3.

Down by two runs taking their final turn at the plate, Central rallied to win 6-5. P.J. Ramsey reached base on an error to begin the seventh. Bryce Davis and Rias had singles to load the bases, Mason Davis hit a sharp grounder which was misplayed and allowed, Ramsey and Bryce Davis which tied the game at 5-5. Rias stole third base and scored on the thrown by the catcher on the play to give Central’s its first and only lead at 6-5.

Tyler Haines was Central’s starting pitcher. He went 5.2 innings and struck out 10 batters while allowing only four hits and one earned run. Zion Morris got one batter out in the sixth inning and earned the victory as Central’s rally came before Peyton Burton stepped in to close out the contest. He struck out two of the four batters he faced.

Rias and Bryce Davis were each 2-for-3 at the plate. Bryce Davis had a double. Jay Kehoe was 2-for-4. Mason Davis and Pelkey each had a double in the win.

Vickers took the mound in the second game and, after the first inning, breezed through the Panthers’ lineup. Vickers went 6.2 innings, allowed two hits and struck out eight. He left the game one out from throwing a complete game. Burton stepped up for the final out which he got on a ground out on his first and only pitch of the game.

Vickers’ toughest inning was the first when he hit a batter, gave up a double and intentionally walked a batter to load the bases with one out. He struck out a batter with the bases loaded for the second out and then got the next Smiths Station batter to fly out to centerfield.

In the bottom of the first, Central scored the first of its five runs for the game. With one out, Mason Davis walked and then moved to second on a  passed ball. He stole third and scored on a sacrifice fly by Kehoe,

Central scored three runs in the second inning. Gage Tillery walked to start the inning. He stole second and went to third on the play when the ball went into the outfield. He scored on a single by Bryce Davis. Bryce Davis stole second and scored on a two-out double by Mason Davis. Mason Davis scored when Pelkey followed with another double/ Central led 4-0.

Rias scored the final Central run in the fourth inning. Rias singled, took second when Mason Davis reached base on a fielder’s choice, went to third on a passed ball and scored when Kehoe reached base on an error.

Bryce Davis was 2-for-3 to lead Central’s hitters. Mason Davis and Pelkey both had doubles in the win. Carson Swilling had a double for Smiths Station and John Sroka had an infield single for the Panthers’ only other hit.

In the third game, Bryce Sanders picked up his fourth win of the year in the 6-3 victory over the Panthers. He went 5.1 innings, gave up five hits, three earned runs and struck out two. Morris came in for two outs and Burton finished the game in the seventh.

At the plate, Central had five hits, including a double by Noah Butler.

Smiths Station scored their only three runs of the game in the first inning using a walk, a single, a triple and a sacrifice fly to plate the runs. Sterling Evilsizer had the triple.

Central scored a single run in the first inning and two in the second to tie the game at 3-3. The Red Devils scored the winning run in the third inning. Pelkey walked, took second on an error and moved to third on that same error before scoring in a passed ball.

Central lost its first game last week, 9-2 to Opelika. Peyton Fowler took the loss, going six innings, allowing nine hits and striking out six. Pelkey and Kehoe were each 1-for-1 at the plate.

Central, 19-11 overall and 3-0 in area play, was scheduled to play Northview on Monday, Benjamin Russell today, Eufaula on Friday and close out the regular season with a three-game series with Auburn which is to begin next Wednesday. Next Thursday, Central will play a doubleheader at Auburn.

Smiths Station and Auburn face each other in a three-game series this week which could determine which two teams in the area make the Class 7A playoffs.