By Gene Stanley/Sports Correspondent
Briarwood Christian did exactly what was needed to win on Friday (May 2), in high school playoff baseball.
In a best-of-three Class 5A state quarterfinal series against Southside, the Lions put together good pitching, great defense and timely hitting en route to a 3-1, 5-2 sweep.
“We switched up the outfield a few series back,” Briarwood coach Steve Renfroe said. “It has worked out well for us.”
Briarwood centerfielder Jake Morris made several outstanding catches, including one that robbed Brock Love of a first-game solo home run. Morris’ glove went over the fence to make the grab.
“(Briarwood) made some great plays,” Southside coach Blake Bone said. “We had a few scoring opportunities early but wasted them. When you do that against a good team, it’s hard to win.”
It appeared that Southside (34-10) might not have much trouble with pitcher Ethan Simmons at the start of the opener. The first two outs were warning-track shots and the third was but a few feet from the track.
Simmons settled down, though, and gave up only two hits and three baserunners in a complete-game effort.
Southside’s run came on a Love sacrifice fly in the sixth inning, cutting the Lion lead to 2-1.
Briarwood’s first two runs came with a taste of controversy, as John Michael Pugoski reached on a fourth-inning ground ball that the Panthers felt was an out. In the next at-bat, Wesley Hardin slugged the ball over the left-centerfield wall.
The Lions (20-10) tacked on an insurance run in the sixth inning, with Morris scoring on a single by Hardin.
“That first game is almost always key to the series,” Bone said. “When it’s two good teams playing, it’s tough to come back from a 1-0 deficit.”
Southside had a chance to be the first to lose the goose egg, as Blake Devine led off the fourth by drawing a hit-by-pitch. Braxton Light sacrifice bunted Devine to second, then Devine stole third. That was as far as he got, however.
In the nightcap, the Panthers stranded runners on second and third in the first inning. With two outs, Hunter Clough doubled down the leftfield line. Alex West, running for pitcher Drew Mullinax, had to hold at third. Mullinax reached on an error.
The Lions drew blood in the second, but it could’ve been worse. Pugaski led off with a single and attempted to score on a right-field double by Hardin. The Southside defense caught him out at home, however.
After that play, Mullinax suffered cramps and had to be pulled from the game. He later re-entered but played left field instead of pitching.
Following the double, Harrison Kane singled to put runners on the corners. Jake Bracewell followed with another single, then the second run scored on a wild pitch.
In the third inning, Briarwood got a single run on a bases-loaded fielders’ choice that failed to get Morris out at the plate.
The Lions lengthened their lead to 5-0 in the sixth on a two-run single by Morris.
In the bottom of the sixth, Devine led off with a double and was plated on a centerfield home run by Light.
Lion pitcher Bracewell, though, struck out the next three batters.
“We knew [Briarwood] had good arms,” Bone said. “We knew that runs would come at a premium and that we had to execute and get timely hits. Unfortunately, they did a better job of it than we did.”