By Joshua Price/Sports Editor
The clash of Class 2A varsity baseball giants at William P. Stewart Field in Rainbow City between fourth-ranked Westbrook Christian High School and top-ranked Mars Hill Bible School ended rather quickly on May 4.
Mars Hill made the most of their trek from the Florence metro, ousting the Warriors in 12 innings in the much-anticipated quarterfinals doubleheader. The Panthers took game one, 8-2, and the nightcap, 11-1.
There was no question why the Panthers dominated the way they did.
“They executed and we did not,” Westbrook head coach Matt Kennedy said. “They bunted well, they hit well and they fielded well. They just executed in every aspect of the game tonight. That is why they are where they are right now and will likely be competing for a state championship.”
The Warriors never got into an offensive rhythm. The hosts scattered only three hits in the opener, and as many in the nightcap.
To give credit where credit is due, one has to look no further than Mars Hill’s pitching staff. The Panthers sport a pair of the hardest throwing, dominating southpaws in all of Class 2A, and arguably the state, in Thomas Burrows and Glenn Irby.
The duo shared the mound in game one. Irby pitched the first three and two-thirds innings, and Burrows finished the game.
Westbrook never got into an offensive rhythm. The Warriors scattered only three hits in the opener against the left-handed tandem.
Westbrook took the lead in the first inning. John Mayfield led the game with a walk, stole second base. A perfectly placed sacrifice bunt by centerfielder Jake Kilgo moved Mayfield to third base, and the senior shortstop scored moments later on a passed ball, giving the Warriors a 1-0 lead.
Westbrook starting pitcher Mikhail Cazenave held the Mars Hill lineup in check during the first cycle through the lineup. The Panthers bats, however, came alive in the fourth inning.
Burrows singled to centerfield to start Mars Hill’s half of the fourth inning, and reached second base on a passed ball. Cleanup hitter Will Harrison caught the Warriors’ defense playing deep, and bunted Burrows to third base. Burrows scored the Panthers’ first run on a passed ball to cut tie the match at 1-1.
Cazenave walked Panther shortstop Colby Smith, putting runners on the corners. Junior outfielder John Hudson had the same idea as Smith, and laid a bunt of his own to load the bases.
Colin White blistered a single to centerfield to score Hudson and Smith, and Mars Hill led, 3-1.
Westbrook catcher Jonathan Ford singled to left field to start the bottom of the fourth inning. Ford moved advanced to second base on a passed ball and Cazenave moved him to third with a sacrifice bunt.
Blaine Beaird sent a towering fly to the centerfield warning track, and Ford scored on the sacrifice to close the Mars Hill lead to 3-2.
Mars Hill tacked on a run in the fifth inning to extend its lead to 4-2.
Hudson and Collin White laid down to consecutive bunts to start the sixth inning for Mars Hill. Lucas Krieger singled to left field to score Hudson. Brandon Krieger bunted to advance both runners and load the bases. Irby ripped a double off the centerfield fence, scoring White and Lucas Krieger. Harrison earned an RBI with an infield hit, scoring Brandon Krieger. The Panthers led 8-2 after six innings.
Irby started the opener for Mars Hill, pitching three and two-thirds innings. He struck out three Warriors, gave up no hits, but walked five batters. Burrows closed the game, striking out six batters and allowing three hits and one run. Burrows earned the win.
Cazenave pitched three and two-thirds for Westbrook, notching four strikeouts and three hits. He was charged with the loss.
Mars Hill dominated Westbrook in the second game, winning 11-1 by the mercy rule in five innings.
Colby Smith pitched a complete game for the Panthers. The right-hander allowed three hits and one run, while striking out seven batters.
Mayfield doubled off the left field fence to start the game. Kennedy kept with the small-ball, and Kilgo sacrificed to move Mayfield into scoring position. Matt Reaves singled to left field to score Mayfield and give the Warriors a 1-0 lead.
Mars Hill scored early and often in the second game, plating two runs in the first inning, three runs in the second, three runs in the third, and three runs in the fifth inning to seal the deal on Westbrook.
Austen Penter led the Panthers’ offensive attack in the second game. The leadoff batter went 4-for-4 with four runs scored, two RBIs and a double. Irby went 2-for-2 with four runs scored, two walks and two RBIs. Smith chipped in three RBIs for Mars Hill.
Reaves was the hottest bat for Westbrook in the nightcap. The third baseman went 2-for-2 with an RBI.
Mars Hill improved its record to 38-7 on the season, while Westbrook finished its season at 26-13.
Offensively, Mars Hill pressured Westbrook with every at-bat. The Warrior defense could never settle either on the mound or in the field.
Kennedy said earlier this week that the key to winning a series against Mars Hill was execution. Westbrook did not execute.
“You have to put the ball down and execute, but that’s hard to do against good pitching like they have. We couldn’t overcome the powerful pitching. They dominated the first game with the two lefties and had the same in the last game with the little righty.”
The Warriors had chances to score runs in the first game, but stranded six runners in scoring position in the first two innings.
“When you get chances to make things happen offensively, you have to do everything right to get the runs,” Kennedy said. “We stranded way too many runners and you can’t do that against teams like Mars Hill and expect to win. Give those guys a lot of credit, that was probably the best team we’ve played this year. They reminded me a lot of ourselves, except they executed and we didn’t.”
Kennedy told his players after the game that this experience should be taken into next season.
“When he have a loss like this, we have to carry it over to next season and learn from it.
Kennedy said he was fond of this year’s squad, and the seniors will be missed.
“This team is different from the ones I’ve had in the past. They have a laid-back attitude but always come ready to play. It’s a great group to work with. I appreciate all the hard work from the seniors and how much they mean to the program.”