By Matthew Martin/Sports Correspondent
Westbrook Christian’s bats seemed to match the weather in its Class 2A quarterfinal baseball series against Ranburne.
On Friday, with cool air and plenty of rain, the Warriors failed to match the Bulldogs at the plate in Game 1, losing 8-3. Westbrook took a 5-0 lead in the second game before the heavy rain causing the series to be delayed until Tuesday.
When Game 2 resumed with warmer weather and plenty of sunshine, the Warriors heated up as well, taking the conclusion of Game 2, 11-0, and the deciding third game, 5-1, to win the series and advance to the Class 2A state high school baseball semifinals.
The Warriors accomplished, as much with a facet of the game they normally do not rely on – the home run.
With the series on the line in Game 3, Westbrook (24-13) got three runs off the long ball. Jordan McCartney hammered a two-run homer and Matthew Reaves blasted a solo shot, which provided all the offense a trio of pitchers – starter Jake Kilgo, Blaine Beaird and Reaves – would need.
“We’re not a power-hitting team,” Reaves said. “We’ll hit singles and doubles, but we’re hitting our stride.”
The home runs were an unexpected surprise. Westbrook had hit just three homers as a team coming into the game, but the two blasts not only put runs on the scoreboard but gave the Warriors added confidence that propelled them through this series.
Westbrook coaches and players hope the trend carries over to this weekend and hopefully beyond.
Over the weekend, however, any hopes of advancing in the playoffs looked like a long shot.
Someone forgot to tell the Warriors, specifically Reaves.
One of the team’s seven seniors, Reaves told Westbrook coach Matt Kennedy, “We’ve got this,” after losing Game 1 and facing a long rain delay.
“We have seven seniors on the team and, after Friday night, they could have ducked their heads and said, ‘You know what? They’re better than us,'” Kennedy said. “But the guys refocused. I said to them, ‘These guys are good, but we’ve seen better pitching than this. We’re prepared for this.’ We did what we had to do.
“Ranburne is a heck of a baseball team. They play a lot like we do. They pitch and play defense. It was a heck of a ballgame between two good teams.”
The Bulldogs did more than pitch and play defense Friday night, rallying from a 3-0 deficit to take the opener. But the lengthy delay seemed to calm down the Warriors and it showed when the series resumed on Tuesday.
“We didn’t let Friday phase us,” McCartney said. “We went to work. We kept our heads on straight. Friday was kind of a wake-up call. I knew we were fine.”
Westbrook needed just five innings to win Game 2, and while the Warriors were scoring plenty of runs, Beaird was shutting down the No. 10 Ranburne (21-8) batters.
Beaird started Game 2 on Friday and he stayed on the mound on Tuesday. He allowed just three singles, while striking out two over a complete five innings.
“I always go out there like it is 0-0,” Beaird said. “Start from scratch, do your best and let the infield and outfield back you up. I’m not a power pitcher, I have to rely on them and we have really good guys in the field. I’m confident because of them.”
Beaird also pitched in relief in Game 3, tossing two innings, while allowing just one hit.
Meanwhile, the Warriors were just finding their stride.
After building a 5-0 lead in Game 2, the rain caused the game to be postponed in the third inning. When the game finally resumed, Westbrook scored four runs in the fourth inning to blow the game wide open.
McCartney walked, followed by a single from Jonathan Ford, Reaves’ RBI double and Mikhail Cazenave’s two-run single. Beaird later drove in Cazenave with a single to conclude the scoring, but by then, the Warriors had built a 9-0 lead.
One inning later, Ford’s two-run double ended the game with the enforced 10-run mercy rule.
Westbrook continued its hitting barrage in the rubber game, plating one run in the first inning and two runs in both the second and third innings.
Alex Perkins started the game with a leadoff single and advanced to third on a wild pick-off throw to first base. The next batter, Kilgo, hit a sacrifice fly to score Perkins.
Reaves led off the second inning with his solo home run for a 2-0 lead, and Westbrook added another run later in the inning following a Ranburne error.
Leading off the top of the third inning, Kilgo walked and stole second before McCartney hit his homer for a 5-0 lead.
From there, Westbrook’s pitchers and defense kept Ranburne off the scoreboard until a nervous bottom of the seventh.
With one out in the inning, the Bulldogs were able to scratch out three straight singles and a walk to score one run and load the bases.
With the tying run at the plate, Reaves was able to get Ranburne’s Jared Edwards to hit a grounder to Perkins, at shortstop.
Perkins turned to second baseman Kyle Leonard for a force out for the second out of the inning. Leonard turned to throw to first base for a double play, but base runner Bradley Gibbs went into second base standing up, interfering with Leonard.
Because of this, the umpires ruled runner interference, meaning Edwards was out at first base ending the game.
“It’s really special, because we were able to turn it around from the first game,” Beaird said. “We had some momentum (Friday) from the second game and it was crucial that we carried it over. We were able to do that.”
Kilgo earned the win in Game three after throwing four innings. He allowed just two hits.
Next up for No. 6 Westbrook is No. 2 Randolph County with a doubleheader on Friday and an if-necessary game on Saturday.
“We’re just going to try to prepare the best we can (for Randolph County),” Beaird said. “When the time comes, hopefully we’ll be ready.”