By Matthew Martin/Sports Correspondent
Westbrook Christian had been in this spot before several times over the last five years.
A month into the Alabama High School Athletic Association state baseball playoffs, the Warriors were one of the last teams left standing.
It was a familiar position, one Matt Kennedy’s squad knew all too well, as the Westbrook coach had led his team this deep into the postseason several times. With Kennedy at the helm, the Warriors had advanced to at least the quarterfinals for four straight seasons.
Westbrook had reached the semifinals twice and the quarterfinals in the other two seasons before bowing out, including last season’s loss to Mars Hill in Class 2A’s quarterfinals.
But the Warriors sensed something different this season.
Even though, up to the first pitch on Friday (May 10), the team had played like a typical Kennedy team, with outstanding pitching and error-less defense, Westbrook (25-13) felt there was more for this year’s squad.
“This year’s team is a different group,” Kennedy said. “I think I’ve told you every week, we’re built on pitching and defense. But I’ll be honest with you, I really don’t know where the offensive explosion came from.”
It didn’t take the team long to show just what it had left to offer.
The offensive explosion was led by Matthew Reaves, who provided a change of pace for the normally power-challenged Warriors.
“That guy (Reaves), I’ve seen the potential in him since he was in the eighth grade and I’ve just been waiting for it all year long,” Kennedy said. “I’ve been thinking, ‘Surely he’s going to hit his peak.’ Lord knows he’s hitting it at the right time.”
The third baseman went 7-for-8, with four singles and a double. What was out of the ordinary was the two home runs off Reaves’ bat. He hit one in each game, both three-run blasts. The home runs – towering blasts that easily cleared the outfield fence – were each hit to the left side. Upon impact with the bat, there was no doubt the balls would leave the park.
For the usually inside-the-park hitting Warriors, Reaves’ trots around the bases was a welcome sight, even if it did take all of his memory to remember what to do when the ball landed in the parking lot. Coming into Friday’s semifinal, Westbrook had managed just five home runs in its first 28 games of the season. In fact, the Warriors did not begin to show their power until the weekend before, in a quarterfinal series win against No. 10 Ranburne.
While Reaves had an amazing series in the semifinals, the power has come from another source, as well.
Catcher Jordan McCartney has homered in two of the four series the Warriors have played this postseason, beginning the power barrage with a three-run homer in Game 2 of an opening-round series win at home against Fyffe. He also hit a two-run home run in a deciding Game 3 win over Ranburne in the quarterfinals.
“With Reaves, it’s been one of those things,” Kennedy said. “He’s batted three, four, and five this year fir us, even the last couple of years. And he started pressing a little bit in the three hole this year. Fortunately, Jordan was able to step into that role.
”Matthew, understanding the role of the five-hole guy, that’s an RBI guy, too. He didn’t pout or get down. He just went and refocused and, like I said, hopefully he’s peaking at the right time.
Each of the players have said they are a team that hits singles and doubles, playing small ball to provide the Westbrook runs. But while Kennedy wants his team to score runs and will take run production any way he can get it, he said his team was turning a corner and was beginning to tap into its potential.
“Earlier in the week, you could tell,” Kennedy said. “We took good approaches at the plate, I think, all day long. We’re getting good (pitch) counts, and therefore they had to throw us good pitches.”
For Westbrook, that corner could not come at a better time as it finally gets to play in a state championship game after coming so close the last four years.