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By Mark Clark
Central High coach A.J. Kehoe could not ask for a better way to end the regular season. If the Red Devils can split the first two games of its three-game series with Auburn High this week, they are the area champions. Both Auburn and Central have already secured a place in the postseason.
The Red Devils swept Smiths Station in the three-game series between the two schools. Then Auburn split the first two games with Smiths Station and claimed the third game which is used as a tiebreaker if necessary. With that game in hand, the Tigers eliminated Smiths Station from any possibility of making the Class 7A playoffs.
“Anytime you control your own fate, it is a good situation. We were not really worried how things went in the series between Smiths Station and Auburn. We knew we were going to have to beat Auburn to win the area title. You can only control what you can control. Fortunately, things worked out to our benefit. We are happy with the situation. It is deserved. Our kids have worked hard for this opportunity,” Kehoe said.
Central and Auburn were slated to begin the regular season ending three-game series yesterday with a single game at Darnell-Nelson Field. The series is scheduled to continue today with a doubleheader at Auburn. Central needs to win one of the first two games of the series to win the area title and to begin the playoffs at home. Auburn must sweep the first two games in order to win the area title and stay home for the first round of the playoffs. The second place team in the area will travel in the first round of the playoffs.
“Our kids’ goal was to win an area title. They have put in the hours of hard work to have this opportunity. Hopefully, we will keep working and reach that goal. We just have to keep doing the little things that we have done to be successful. We have to keep winning the freebie war and not give our opponents extra outs. We have got to keep getting important two-out hits. We have to play our best games,
Even though the Red Devils did not play their best last week, they were rewarded for the way they have played most of the season when the Alabama Sports Writers Association voted the team into its Top 10 poll of Class 7A teams at No. 9. Smiths Station was still in the poll though it dropped from No. 2 to No. 10. Auburn, which had been ranked No. 7 and as high as No. 3, dropped out of the poll. Auburn is the defending state champion in Class 7A.
“I have always said this was a great area for baseball. It is also an area with a very thin line between getting in the playoffs and not making the playoffs at all,” Kehoe said.
As the final series of the year is now upon his team, Kehoe said his team cannot afford to play like it did last week if it wants to make a run in the playoffs. The Red Devils were 1-2-1 in its four games last week. They tied Northview 1-1 in a game they led 2-1, but that was ended early due to rain. The lost 6-3 to Benjamin Russell, giving up four unearned runs in the first inning. They lost 12-1 to North side in a game the Red Devils pitching staff gave up 13 hits. Then the Red Devils beat Eufaula 4-2 as they celebrated Senior Night.
“I am proud the seniors got a win in that last game. It was a night when we honor our seniors for all the work they have done and for all the hours they have spent representing our school. It was also a time for us to honor our parents for what they have done for our program. You cannot have a successful program without both good players and good parents,” Kehoe said.
In the 6-3 loss to Benjamin Russell, Tommy Vickers took the pitching loss. Vickers gave up two hits and four runs over four innings, but did not allow an earned run. Mason Davis was 3-for-4 with three RBIs. Noah Butler was 2-for-3. Gage Tiller had a double in the loss.
Bryce Sanders took the pitching loss to Northside. Jeremy Thorn and Butler were both 1-for-2 at the plate to lead Central.
Against Eufaula, Peyton Fowler was the winning pitcher for Central. Bryce Davis and Sanders were each 1-for-1 at the plate.
The Class 7A playoffs begin April 26-27. Central and Auburn will match up with Prattville and Enterprise in the opening round. Exact match-ups will be determined when area games have been completed.