Lions come up short in state championship series

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Photo: Sardis High School head baseball coach Kevin Vinson (picture standing at far left) addresses his players following the Lions’ loss to Holtville in the Class 5A state baseball championship on Friday, May 19 at Jacksonville State. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)

By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor

Sardis High’s historic run in the 2023 Class 5A state baseball playoffs ended on a disappointing note on Friday, May 19.
Trailing Holtville 1-0 in the best-of-three series, the Lions (30-8) could not overcome a stellar pitching performance from Drey Barrett and a clutch home run from Jacksonville State signee Sam Silas en route to a 3-1 loss at JSU.
“I’m just incredibly proud of this team,” said Sardis head coach Kevin Vinson. “They’ve done things that have never been done before here, and they’ve set the standard for Sardis High School. For a program to go from 2A to 3A to 4A and now five and lose two state championship games by a total of two runs is something to be proud of. No matter what the scoreboard said today and last night, I think anybody that saw us play knew that we weren’t going to quit and that we fought form the first pitch to the last.”
Barrett went the distance for the Bulldogs, allowing four hits, no earned runs and three walks while striking out six. He sent the Lions down in order in the first, fourth and six innings and retired nine of the last 11 batters he faced.
“[Barrett] likes to work fast, so we wanted to slow him down,” said Vinson. “It didn’t work out for us quite like we wanted it to. From a competitive standpoint at the plate, though, I thought we did a good job. The bottom line is that our balls just didn’t find the holes today.”
Sardis’ one brief lead came in the top of the second on Trey Thornton’s score off a two-out error.
Holtville tied the game in the bottom of the inning when the Bulldogs loaded the bases and scored via a hit-by-pitch.
Holtville took the lead for good in the fourth. With two outs and a runner on first base, Silas launched a 3-1 offering over the leftfield wall for a 3-1 advantage. The Lions put a man on base in the fifth and seventh innings, but neither runner advanced past second.
In six innings, Sardis starter Blaze Gerhart scattered eight hits and one walk while fanning three.
Gerhart, Russ Wiggs, Carson Gilliilan and Baylor Garrard each had a hit.
“This is the hardest days of my life but at the same time it’s one of the best days of my life,” said Vinson. “The support we’ve had from this community throughout the playoffs has been incredible. I guarantee you that a playoff series at Sardis High School is the best environment you’ll ever see in high school baseball, and this group is the reason for that.”
In the series’ opener on Thursday at Choccolocco Park in Oxford, the Lions were two outs away from victory before the Bulldogs scored three runs in the top of seventh on the way to a 3-2 win.
Sardis led 2-0 after six innings thanks to Garrard’s score off an error in the bottom of the third and Thornton’s RBI single in the fourth.
That two-run advantage did not turn out to be quite enough. With one out and runners on second and third for Holtville in the top of the seventh, Randy Bridges laced an RBI single. In the next at-bat, Tanner Potts’ sacrifice fly plated Drew Conner to tie the score at 2-2. Sam Silas then singled to centerfield drive in Hudson Parson with the eventually winning run.
Potts kept the Lions from scoring in the bottom of the inning. Garrard drew a one-out walk and advanced to second base on Landon’s Carroll’s sacrifice bunt, but Potts induced a flyout to centerfield to put the Bulldogs up 1-0 in the series.
In complete-game effort, Luke Weems scattered seven hits and two walks while striking out five. He retired nine straight batters from the second through fourth inning. Gerhart went 3-for-3 with two doubles and a run scored; Thornton had a hit and an RBI and Garrard had a hit and a run scored.
“We know that because of our success and how far we made it that we’ll have a target on our backs next year,” said Vinson. “But we’re okay with that, because I’d rather have that target on our backs and get everyone’s best game, because that’s going to make us better. Whatever we have to do not have to experience this feeling that we’re having right now, I’m willing to go through.”
Senior pitcher and Gadsden State signee Luke Weems expressed his appreciation for what Vinson brought the program since his arrival three years ago.
“I came here in the beginning of 10th grade and immediately was accepted,” he said. We’ve been brothers on and off the field ever since. I feel like I was a leader on this team, and we didn’t accept anything but to win. I told my boys after the game that I wouldn’t trade them for that blue trophy any day of the week.”
Vinson pointed out that his returning players were already talking about next season during his postgame remarks.
“There’s definitely an ‘unfinished business’ mindset. Someone said that the last time a Sardis team won state was in basketball in 1935. That’s awesome, and we want to bring the blue map back to Sardis. As long as I’m here, that’s going to be our goal every year. We’re going out to win every game we play, and if we can do that, we’ll have the blue map instead of the red one at the end of next season.”

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