By Chris McCarthy
A 1-8 start to the season is officially in the rearview mirror for the Westbrook Christian baseball team.
Following a 10-0, 0-1 split in the best-of-three first round series against Fyffe last Friday (Apr. 21), the Warriors (18-15) used a solid pitching effort from Cullen Stafford and potent offense to post a 13-3 win in five innings on Saturday to move on the the second round of the AHSAA Class 2A state playoffs.
Westbrook visits No. 8 Fayetteville for a best-of-three series starting this Friday (Apr. 28).
After Fyffe ace Seth Benefield held Westbrook to two hits in the game 2 shutout, the Warriors torched the Red Devils for 14 hits, including four from Stafford, who helped his cause with a double and three RBI.
In four and two-third innings, Stafford limited the visitors to four hits and four walks while striking out one. He allowed two runs in the third and one in the fourth before giving way in the top of the fifth to Garret Kennedy, who record the game’s final out.
“Cullen’s been our No. 3 [pitcher] all year, and he battled through today,” said Westbrook head coach Matt Kennedy. “We know that he’s a strike-thrower and he kept us in the game. There’s not much more you can say about that.”
After Stafford retired the side in order in the top of the first, Westbrook took the lead for good in the bottom of the inning when
Garrett Kennedy and Sam Dutton hit consecutive doubles and Troy Bearden and Stafford singled.
Fyffe soon drew within 4-2 on runs from Carter Hilley and Parker Goodwin, but Stafford’s two-run double highlighted a four-run second inning that ended with the Warriors ahead 7-2.
Fyffe’s Jace Jones doubled and scored in the third to narrow the gap to four runs, and that was the final time the Red Devils (15-6) crossed home plate. Connor Bolton scored off J.R. Morgan’s RBI base hit in the bottom of the fourth, and three Fyffe errors paved the way for a five-run Westbrook fifth. Morgan, Kennedy and Stafford all had RBI singles in the inning, while Self’s score off an error ended the game on the 10-run mercy rule.
“I told our guys that we we can score one run every inning and if we can keep the other team under that, we’ll win,” said Matt Kennedy. “That’s been our philosophy, because we’re not going to blow people up, pitching-wise. Balls will be put in play, so we have to play good defense. It was a good series, and I’m just thankful that we’re going on to the next round.”
Matt Kennedy pointed out that having Garret Kennedy and Sam Dutton, the Warriors’ No. 1 and No. 2 hitter, get on base three out of their four at-bats was a key factor in the win.
“Your leadoff guys sets the tone, and that made a big difference.”
At the plate for Westbrook, Garret Kennedy went 2-for-3 with three runs scored; Sam Dutton went 2-for-4 with an RBI and three runs scored; Morgan went 2-for-4 with two RBI; Self went 2-for-4 with a run scored; Addison Ponder had a hit and two RBI; Bearden had a hi and and RBI; Bolton scored three runs; and Andrew Dutton scored two runs.
“Benefield threw the ball well [in game 2) and kept us off-balance,” said Matt Kennedy. “He’s one of the best lefties we’ve seen this year.”
Westbrook game 2 starter Sam Dutton also pitched well, giving up only one hit and one walk while fanning six in six innings.
Self was the wining pitcher in the opener, allowing four hits and two walks with seven strikeouts.