By Chad Dixon
The hunt for their second Class 7A state baseball title in four years begins for Smiths Station (19-17, 2-4) on April 27. After coming up one game short of claiming the Class 7A Area 4 title against Auburn last week, the Panthers’ sights are on Area 2 champion Fairhope Pirates (24-13, 7-1). The two teams will match up for a double header on Friday beginning at 6 p.m. ET at Volanta Park in Fairhope, Ala.
Jerry Dale Bowman retired seven of the first eight Auburn Tigers he faced on April 18 at home. Carter Duke and Tyler Byrd singled to lead off the bottom of the third in game one of the series. Dalton Gunter and Ryan Bradley had RBI singles in the inning to give Smiths Station a 2-0 lead.
The Tigers rallied for three runs in the top of the fifth. Garrett Morris’ single drove in Clayton Phillips to tie the game at two. Jackson Arnold doubled later in the inning to score Morris and give Auburn a 3-2 lead. Auburn would hold on to win game one 4-2. Bowman allowed four earned runs on 10 hits and struck out six over seven.
Clay Weatherly pitched potentially the best five innings of his high school career in game two last Thursday in Auburn, Ala. He struck out the side in the fifth and had seven total punch out to that point. He was perfect through five: 15 up, 15 down. He started the sixth with his eighth strikeout. He then struggled walking back-to-back hitters and surrendered a three-run homer run to Morris to give the Tigers a 3-2 lead.
“He was dominating their lineup – I couldn’t ask for anything more on the mound,” said Smiths Station Coach Mike Ferry.
Auburn held on to win game two 3-2 and clinch the area title to preserve their No. 1 ranking in the state of Alabama.
Weatherly pitched six innings, surrendered three runs on two hits and struck out 11. Dalton Harrelson led the Panthers’ offense with two RBI and was 3-for-4 at the plate. Duke and Byrd doubled.
For Auburn, Brooks Fuller picked up the win. He pitched six innings, allowed two runs on seven hits, struck out two and walked two. Morris was 1-for-3 with three RBI.
Auburn completed the three-game sweep with a 14-4 win in game three of the series on Thursday. The Panthers scored three runs in the top of the first, but the Tigers responded with a seven-run bottom of the second. Auburn added four in the fifth and three in the sixth.
Griffin Speaks, Ryan Lambert and Kyle Trimble each hit two doubles for Auburn and had a combined seven RBI. The Tigers used six pitchers to pitch an inning each and hold the Panthers to four runs on six hits. Carson Swilling had a double and two RBI for Smiths Station. Bowman also drove in a run.
The No. 9 ranked Panthers closed out the regular season with the No. 3 ranked Hoover Bucs on April 23 at Samford Stadium on the campus of Auburn University. The Bucs scored two in the second inning and three in the third and would go on to win 7-3. Justin Owens and Duke had an RBI each and were both 2-for-3 at the plate for Smiths Station.
Bowman and Weatherly, who figure to be the two starting pitchers for the Fairhope series, both pitched two innings and combined for five strikeouts.
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