By Chris McCarthy
The Yellow Jackets from Walker County didn’t have much sting on Apr. 20.
Solid pitching sparked Southside to a sweep over Curry in a best-of-three Class 5A first round state playoff series at Southside.
Game 1 starter Alex Pondick overcame a shaky start to post a six-hit, 11-strikeout performance in a 10-3 win. In seven innings, Ponder scattered six hits while striking out 11 and walking none.
All six hits and both runs came in the first three innings. After the visitors scored off an error in the top of the fourth, Pondick retired 11 of the final 12 Jacket batters.
Alex Fuhrman picked where Pondick left off in game 2, allowing just three hits and one run over six frames en route to an 8-1 victory. He struck out seven.
Meanwhile, the Southside lineup mustered 25 hits against the Curry pitching staff, including seven for extra bases.
The Panthers (20-13) travel to Walker today (Apr. 27) for a doubleheader in a best-of-three series.
“It’s always a good thing when you can end [a series] in two games,” said Southside head coach Blake Bone. “You get to save some arms and get a day off and rest some guys. That’s big when it comes to this time of the year. We had some sickness and some injuries going on today, so it was good for us to win out.”
At the plate for Southside, second baseman Taylor Snow went 4-for-8 with three RBI and two runs scored, while Caleb Butler contributed two hits, including a two-run double, three RBI and two runs.
Connor Paulson went 2-for-5 with three runs and an RBI, while Cody Pylant went 3-for-6 with an RBI.
The hosts didn’t get off on the right foot in game 1, as two fielding errors in the top of the first put Southside in a quick 2-0 hole and Yellow Jacket starter Evan Miller sent the Panthers in order in the bottom of the inning.
Southside climbed back into the game over the next two innings. Scott Harden’s RBI single in the second inning drew the Panthers within a run, and Fuhrman came home on a Butler base hit in the third for a 2-2 tie.
Pondick wiggled out of some trouble in the top of third when Curry loaded the bases with no outs, but his defense came through by way of a 4-6 double play and a fielder’s choice to end the threat.
Paulson spared Southside further damage in the fourth on a behind-the-back catch in deep centerfield with two outs and a runner on third.
The Southside bats finally got hot in the fifth. Butler’s bases-loaded, one-out double gave the hosts the lead for good, while RBI singles from Smart and Pylant later in the inning helped provide the Panthers with an 8-2 advantage.
“Caleb has close to 30 RBI, so he’s has been consistent all year for us in driving in runs,” said Bone. “He’s a guy you want up there in big situations.
Ponder protected the lead by retiring the final six Curry batters
“I don’t think Alex had his best stuff today, but he settled in after the first few innings,” said Bone. “He mixed all of his pitches up and got some outs. He’s been doing that in his last couple of starts. You get what you expect out of him.”
The hosts tacked on two more runs in the sixth on run-scoring base hits courtesy of Snow and Braxton Light.
“Our offense got off to a slow start, and it might have been nerves with a lot of the younger kids being their first time in this atmosphere,” said Bone. “We got [Miller’s] pitch count up and he lost some velocity as the game went on, and we were able to get some big at-bats.”
Fuhrman, who fanned seven and walked one, did not allow a hit from the third to the fifth inning in the nightcap. His only blemish occurred in the bottom of the sixth when Cade Oliver’s single plated Miller. By that time, the Panthers were enjoying a seven-run lead.
“Any time you have a guy who throws three pitches for strikes, it give the team a chance, and that’s what Andrew does for us. I think he’s given up just three runs in area and playoff starts. He mixed everything up and had a real good change-up and curveball.”
Curry pitcher Lane Oliver didn’t make it out of the fourth inning, as consecutive doubles from Pilot and Paulson helped make it a 7-0 lead. Southside added a run in the fifth when Blake Devine scored off Mullinax’s sacrifice fly.
Patrick Lister came on in the seventh, stranding runners on second and third with two straight strikeouts.
Light finished with three hits, while Fuhrman had a pair of hits and scored four runs.
Devine and Mullinax each had two hits, two RBI and two runs scored, while Hardin went 2-for-5.
Miller, Aaron Smith, Lane Oliver and Cade Oliver each had a pair of hits for the Yellow Jackets (16-21).