By Gene Stanley/ Sports Correspondent
Class 5A state playoffs second round
No. 7 Etowah (27-9) at No. 5 Southside (26-10)
Today, 5 p.m.; Saturday 2 p.m. if needed
This is what high school baseball is all about.
Two good teams fighting for playoff survival and, oh yeah, they just happen to be neighborhood archrivals who don’t like each other very much.
“When we play Southside, it’s kind of like Alabama and Auburn, in that you don’t have to worry about getting the kids or fans ready,” Etowah coach Larry Foster said. “They’ve just got to go out and execute. Defense and mistakes are what cost you in this type of games.”
Even though these teams have already met three times this season, with Southside winning two of them – Blake Bone said that his team will have to forget all of that and concentrate on the game at hand.
“Of course this game has a lot bigger implications than the others had,” the Southside coach said. “Our kids are always ready to play Etowah.”
Foster praised the Panthers, calling them one of the best high school teams he’s ever seen play.
Bone didn’t go quite that far about his own team. Instead, he bragged on the Blue Devils and their turnaround under Foster.
“It tells a lot about (Foster) that the kids come out and play so hard for him,” Bone said. “They’ve done everything right this year.”
Foster retired six years ago and this is his first season back at EHS.
The two Etowah County squads took different routes to reach the second round.
Southside easily handled Scottsboro on Apr. 19, needing only 10 total innings to post an 11-0, 18-1 sweep.
“We got to use a lot of pitchers again,” Bone said. “Because of the scores, we were able to substitute when we wanted to instead of when the game dictated. I’m not sure that will be the case this week.”
Meanwhile, Etowah had a fight on its hands. The Blue Devils split with Arab, 7-0, 5-8, then saw the third game go to extra innings before squeaking out a 5-4, eight-inning victory on Monday (Apr. 22).
“Playing in that competitive of a series will help us against Southside, and down the road if we get lucky and win.”
According to both coaches, this kind of game could easily be decided by one mistake or one big play.
“Baseball is a funny game in that you usually have two or three opportunities to win or lose,” Foster said. “I just hope we can hang around with them long enough to possibly get the good side of those plays.”
Southside went to the state championship series last season and made the semifinals in 2011.
“I’ve seen some good high school baseball teams over the years,” Foster said. “This year’s Southside team may be the best yet.
They have pitching and they have good batters. They play good defense, and when they do make an error, they’re good at not letting it hurt them.”
It wasn’t very long ago that Etowah was considered a state power, as the Blue Devils won state titles in 1985, ‘87 and ‘96 under Foster’s tutelage. Now that Foster is back, the Blue Devils seem to be turning things in their favor once again.
“(Etowah) has got quality players that play hard,” Bone said. “And obviously, they’ve got a great coach.”