By Joshua Price/Sports Editor
It took Southside only two games to handily defeat sixth-ranked Hartselle last week in the Class 5A state semifinals in front of a record crowd at Danny League Field in Southside. The Tigers eliminated the Panthers from the playoffs two years ago in the semifinals.
The Panthers enjoyed splendid outings from pitchers Alex Pondick and Andrew Fuhrman to win the doubleheader on Friday (May 14), 4-2 and 6-1, each hurling complete games, respectively.
Hartselle broke the scoring ice in the first game. Chris Brown singled to centerfield to lead off the second inning for the Tigers. Kaleb Jones brought Brown home on a hit-and-run play to give Hartselle a 1-0 lead.
Hartselle pitcher Colby Nelson held Southside in check until the bottom of the fourth inning. Four consecutive two-out hits by Blake Devine, Drew Mullinax and doubles by Scott Hardin and Cody Pylant produced three runs to give the Panthers a 3-1 lead.
Taylor Snow doubled in the fifth inning for Southside, scoring Caleb Butler, to extend the Panther’s lead to 4-1.
Austin Spangler reached first off a Southside error in the sixth inning. Jones ripped a shot to the gap between right field and center field to score Spangler, but was thrown out at third base trying to leg out a triple to end the inning and finalize the scoring at 4-2.
Pondick closed out the Tigers in the top of the seventh inning to earn the win. He struck out four Hartselle batters, walked four and scattered five hits.
Furhman paced Southside’s offense, batting 2-for-3, while Mullinax went 1-for-2 with a walk, a run, and a stolen base.
Southside dominated the nightcap.
The Panthers took advantage of the lumbering Hartselle pitcher and laid down a number of bunts to earn infield hits in the opening innings of the game.
Furhman earned a walked to lead the game and moved to third base on a single by Braxton Light. Butler bunted to score Furhman, followed by a sacrifice fly by Snow to score Light. The Panthers led 2-0 at the end of the first inning.
Southside continued its offensive onslaught in the second inning.
Mullinax ripped a double down the left field line to lead off the inning. Pylant singled to centerfield two batters later to score Mullinax, giving the Panthers a 3-0 lead. Pylant moved over to second and third base on passed balls, and scored off an infield hit by Furhman to extend Southside’s lead to 4-0. Light followed with a single to the right-center gap to score Furhman, and the Panthers led 5-0 heading into the bottom half of the second inning.
Furhman gave up a single, a walk and a single as Hartselle load the bases in the bottom of the second inning with no outs. The Tigers scored one run off a sacrifice fly to right field to close the gap to 5-1, but Furhman forced an infield popout and a strikeout to end the inning.
Southside right fielder Light made a diving catch in the second inning with the bases loaded, which was a pivotal play in the game.
“Braxton made a heck of a catch out there to save a few runs and get that defensive rally started in the second inning,” Southside head coach Blake Bone said. “Plays like that keep us in games and help our pitchers hold leads, which is exactly what we have to do to win close games.”
Southside tacked on a run in the top of the seventh inning to extend its lead to 6-1. Pylant walked to leadoff the inning and scored on a Light single to right-centerfield.
Hartselle never mounted a serious threat after the second inning. The Tigers scattered five hits over the following four innings, and scored one run in the bottom half of the seventh inning, unearned, to close the scoring at 6-2.
Furhman got the win for Southside, striking out five batters while walking a pair.
Light led the Panthers, batting 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs. Furhman went 2-for-3 with a walk, two runs scored, a double and an RBI. Mullinax was unstoppable. The speedster was 3-for-3 with a double and a run scored. Pylant slapped a hit with an RBI and scored two runs.
Bone said he was not surprised at the pitching performances of Pondick and Furhman.
“Both of those guys have done that all year long. They buckled down and threw some good stuff tonight. Pondick has great stuff every game. Furhman is competitive, he is gutsy. We depend on him a lot for wins. Both those guys are just competitors.”
Southside defeated Hartselle in front of what was arguably the largest baseball crowd to visit Danny League Field. Panther parents, boosters and other members from the community rallied to give the stadium a hurried “makeover” to accommodate the expected crowd – which reached over 2,000 during the opening innings of the first game.
“Very exciting, great atmosphere for baseball,” Bone said. “It’s great to look out there and see the community and former players supporting us like they did. It means a lot to us to have them cheering us on. Our guys were ecstatic about the student body and the crowd. Friday night was incredible. The community, administration and faculty have been great to us. This is just a wonderful feeling that is unexplainable.”