By Chris McCarthy/Editor
Southside High left one too many ducks on the pond last Friday (May 1), a shortcoming that ultimately resulted in Cullman’s 7-3, 11-1 doubleheader sweep in the Class 6A state baseball quarterfinals at SHS.
The No. 8 Panthers stranded 17 base runners over the course of the evening, including eight in scoring position. The hosts managed just eight hits for the two games.
The top-ranked Bearcats, on the other hand, scorched the Southside pitching for 15 hits, seven of them for extra bases.
“We couldn’t get timely hits and made a couple of mistakes that led to big innings [for Cullman],” said SHS head coach Blake Bone. “We didn’t have that big hit with runners on, and we never really could catch any momentum today. If you make mistakes against a good team, they capitalize, and that’s what happened tonight. We dug ourselves a hole and just couldn’t get out of it. I thought our guys competed and played hard but things just didn’t go our way.”
Cullman jumped out to a 3-0 lead in Game 1 with three runs in the top of the second inning.
Southside pulled within a run in the bottom of the inning on Greyson Daugherty’s two-run single, but respective triples by Joey Cuello and Carter Bowen in the third helped push the visitors’ advantage to 6-2.
Saige Benson’s sacrifice fly brought home Tanner Snow in the Panther half of the inning to make it 6-3, but with one out and runners on second and third, Southside struck out and grounded out.
Cullman starter and Auburn University signee Jesse Scott retired eight of the next SHS batters. He gave way to Bowen with one out in the bottom of the sixth when the Panthers had men on first and second with one out.
The above base runners remained where they were, as Bowen extinguished the potential rally with consecutive strikeouts.
Brock Love walked with one out in the seventh, but the final two Panthers batters flied out and struck out to end the game.
Scott allowed four hits and six walks while fanning three. Love went the distance for Southside, striking out seven while allowing five hits and five walks.
The Panthers’ watershed moment in the nightcap came very early on. While starter Lakota Leek retired the first six Bearcat batters, Southside took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Hunter Clough singled in Snow.
But the Panthers wasted a prime opportunity to pad their advantage in the top of the third. A two-out, bases-loaded situation ended with a strikeout, and Cullman took the lead for good with a four-run third inning.
Tyler Burks relieved Leek with two outs in the third, and the senior righthander kept the Panthers within striking distance over the next two innings by allowing just three base runners, only one of whom reached second.
The Southside offense came up short once again in the sixth, however, when another two-out, base-loaded situation ended with a force-out at second base.
That turned out to be the end of the line for the Panthers, as Cullman scored seven runs in the bottom of the sixth to end the game on the 10-run mercy rule.
At the plate for Southside, Clough and Benson each had two hits and an RBI.
Daugherty and Landon Cunningham had a hit and tow RBI, while Dakota Garmon had a pair of hits.
For Cullman, Cuello went 3-for-5 with three RBI, while Maison Goodwin had three hits, four RBI and four runs scored.
Bone noted that he’d miss his nine-member senior class, several of whom he helped coach to the Little League World Series six years ago.
“I’ve been with these guys a long time since I first moved back here, so I watched them grow up. They’re a great group of kids who worked hard, never complained and always played hard. It’s tough to watch them leave, but a lot of them are going on to bigger and better places in baseball. Hopefully they’ll have great college careers.”