By Chad Dixon
The Smiths Station Panthers fell one game short of the Class 7A Area 4 title in the regular season. This weekend, they have an opportunity to right that wrong with the team that defeated them for the honor, the Auburn Tigers.
“We really did not have a preference on who we played, we just wanted to keep playing,” said Smiths Station Head Coach Mike Ferry. This Smiths Station team has received comparisons to the 2015 state championship team. “I can see the comparisons. We have a pretty good one-two punch in our starting pitchers like we did with (Max) Newton and (Blake) Rivera. I think our offense now is a bit more Jeckyll and Hyde. I would like to see more consistency there,” Ferry added.
Smiths Station dropped Game 1 against the Alma Bryant Hurricanes in dramatic fashion on May 4 at home. They carried a 2-0 lead into the top of the seventh. A walk and three consecutive hits were the catalyst to three runs and a 3-2 win for Alma Bryant.
Game 2 saw the Panthers’ offense come alive and score 10 runs on 12 hits in a 10-4 win to force Game 3 on Saturday. Justin Owens, Dalton Gunter and Jerry Dale Bowman all doubled. Owens was 2-for-5 with an RBI, Gunter was 2-for-2 with two walks and an RBI and Bowman was 2-for-4 with two RBI. He also picked up the win on the mound. He pitched seven complete innings, struck out seven and allowed no earned runs on four hits.
Ryan Bradley walked to begin the bottom of the second inning on Saturday afternoon. Later in the inning, Sterling Evilsizer singled and Carson Swilling walked to load the bases. With two outs in the inning and Tyler Byrd up, Bradley would score on a wild pitch and Evilsizer scored on a passed ball on the next pitch to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead. Dalton Harrelson hit one RBI single in the fifth to score Carter Duke. Duke and Swilling added one RBI each in the sixth to extend the lead to 5-0. Trent Hodgdon and Ryan Middleton combined for a shutout of the Hurricanes. Middleton allowed two hits over 2 2/3rd innings and struck out two. Hodgdon pitched 4 1/3rd innings of hitless baseball and struck out four in the 5-0 win.
The stage is set. Smiths Station versus Auburn for the spot in the state title series. Clay Weatherly and Bowman had leads late against the Tigers. Weatherly had pitched a perfect five innings in Game 2 against the Tigers. Coach Ferry thinks his starting pitchers are ready for an opportunity at redemption.
“Well I know they aren’t scared. I think they learned a lot from those games and know there are certain mistakes you can’t make even if you have been perfect for the first four or five innings. There is some comfort in knowing who you are playing and I think they are ready for the challenge,” Ferry said.
Auburn will host Smiths Station on Friday for a doubleheader. First pitch for game one is scheduled for 6 p.m. ET.