By Chad Dixon
Smiths Station and Auburn high schools were both tenants in the ASWA Class 7A Top 10 for the majority of the season with the Tigers winning the Area 4 title and ending the regular season as the No. 1 ranked team in the state. Both teams knew runs would be at a premium entering the state tournament semi-finals last weekend. The Tigers swept the Panthers (2-1, 7-1) in Auburn on May 11.
Game one featured a strong pitching duel between Auburn’s Drew Jennings and Smiths Station’s Jerry Bowman. The Tigers’ leadoff hitter Garrett Morris singled to right field to start the bottom of the first. Two batters later, Jackson Arnold singled to right to score Morris and give Auburn a 1-0 lead. Jennings would retire the next four Smiths Station batters, but Justin Owens tied the game at one with a solo homerun over the left field wall in the top of the third.
Bowman would get out five of the next six hitters. Carter Hunt hit a single in the bottom of the fourth and then stole second. Tanner Jones scored Hunt with a RBI double to left to give the Tigers a 2-1 advantage. A balk was called on Bowman that advanced Hunt to third, but he induced a groundball to shortstop to escape further damage.
Jennings was close to unhittable for the remainder of Game 1. He allowed only one single in the final three innings and struck out four to close the door on the Panthers’ offense. Overall, he pitched seven complete innings, allowed one earned run on four hits and struck out eight. Bowman took the tough luck loss in game one. He allowed two earned runs on eight hits and struck out five over six innings.
The Tigers quickly jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first innings in Game 2. Morris was hit by Clay Weatherly’s fourth pitch to start the game. With the hit-and-run on, Morris advanced to second when Griffin Speaks grounded out to short. Arnold doubled down the third base line to score Morris. Arnold scored when Ryan Lambert doubled to left in the next at bat. Jake Waters joined the RBI party with a single to score Lambert.
Auburn’s Game 2 starting pitcher Brooks Fuller retired all three Panthers hitters in the bottom of the first with two strikeouts. The Tigers added another three runs in the top of the second to extend their lead to 6-0. Arnold doubled for the second consecutive at bat to score a pair.
The Panthers would score their lone run in Game 2 in the bottom of the second. Bowman drew a one-out walk and advanced to third when Sterling Evilsizer singled to right. In the next at bat, Bowman scored when Carson Swilling hit into a fielder’s choice at first.
Arnold was a perfect 3-for-3, scored three times and drove in three runs. Dalton Harrelson, Tyler Byrd, Swilling and Evilsizer had hits for the Panthers. Fuller picked up the win for Auburn. He struck out nine through six innings, allowed one run on four hits. Weatherly took the loss. He allowed six earned runs on five hits over two innings. Brandon Gresham allowed one run on one hit through three innings of relief. Ellis Yohn pitched a scoreless last two innings for the Panthers.
Auburn will play Hewitt-Trussville in the state championship in Montgomery on May 18.