Southside High’s Andrew Dunston catches a relay throw just before a Corner baserunner arrives at third base during the Panthers’ 5-4 victory in the first round of the Class 5A state baseball playoff last Saturday (Apr. 20) at SHS.
By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
Trailing 6-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning with the season on the line, most teams would hit the panic button.
But this Southside squad isn’t like most teams.
Instead, the Panthers (23-13) rallied for the second time in the series to knock off Corner, 8-6, in the first round of the 5A state baseball playoffs at Danny League Field in Southside on Monday, April 22.
Southside chipped into the lead in the bottom of the fifth after a sacrifice fly RBI from Sam Raines scored Tyler Roberts and an RBI single from Jacob Little plated Brock Ford.
Then, in the bottom of the sixth, the Panthers made their move.
Roberts drove in freshman Toren Snow to cut the lead to 6-3, and Connor Johnson’s sacrifice fly scored Andrew Dunston. After a single from Raines with two outs, Brennan Stokes hit an infield single to score Roberts, which closed the gap to 6-5 with cleanup hitter Jacob Little up to bat.
To say that Little delivered in his at-bat is a drastic understatement.
The tenth grader blasted the ball to deep right field for a three-run home run to give the Panthers an 8-6 lead, and Ford came on in the top of the seventh to close out the game on the mound.
“I was just looking for a hit,” Little said. “We needed to put up runs, and that’s all I was thinking about was getting a run.”
Southside has been no stranger to late inning rallies this season. The Panthers stormed back in the last week of the season to beat Etowah to win the Area 12 championship and overcame a 4-0 deficit in Game 1 against Corner (21-16) for a 5-4 victory.
Before the bottom of the fifth inning, first-year Southside coach Shane Chappell told his players to remember what they’ve accomplished in similar situations throughout the year, and they responded yet again.
“The message was just to know who we are. We don’t quit,” Chappell said. “We don’t stop playing. We play until the last pitch, no matter what happens. That’s who we are as a program and who they are, and that’s how we’ve been all year. We’re not going to start being different today. All it takes is one guy at a time, and Little put a charge in that one.”
Southside advanced to the second round of the 5A playoffs and will travel to Russellville on Saturday (April 27) for a doubleheader. The third game, if necessary, will be on Monday.
Little was 1-for-4 with four RBI and a home run in Game 3. Lane Roberts earned the win on the mound as he pitched two innings in relief. Tyler Roberts was 3-3 at the plate with an RBI and two runs scored. He also started the game on the mound and tossed four innings for the Panthers.
“We’re a team that’s going to fight every game,” Roberts said. “There’s no quit in us. We’ve been playing this way all year. We keep fighting every pitch.”
Roberts was also the hero at the plate in the first game of the series.
Southside fell behind 4-0 in after four innings but exploded in the bottom of the fifth for four runs to tie the game. After Mason McGlaughn walked to score the first run of the game,
Snow hit a double to score three more runs to even the score at 4-4.
The game went into extra inning after both offenses went stagnant down the stretch. In the bottom of the tenth, however, Andrew Dunston connected on a double and later reached third on a passed ball. Roberts then placed a base hit in between short and third to score Dunston for the walk-off win 5-4.
“I told our guys that if there’s anybody in the state that’s prepared to have a comeback and to continue fighting, it’s us,” Chappell said. “We’ve done it all year. We don’t have the most talented guys as far as individual players, but we have the best team. We’ll always continue to fight and compete. I believe in our guys.
“We never wavered. We had a moment there where we could’ve quit. We could’ve said, ‘Hey the game’s over.’ We’ve done that all year. That’s a testament not to us as coaches. That’s the heart of the players and the fight and the grit. They deserve all the credit. Not the coaches. I can’t say enough about our guys and how proud I am of them.”
Corner won the second game of the series, 2-0, behind a complete game from pitcher Tanner Hayes. The junior struck out nine batters and only gave up two hits in the win.