By Chris Benefield/Sports Correspondent
Piedmont stepped into the third round of the Class 3A state high school baseball playoffs, posting a 13-1, 9-3 doubleheader sweep of Westbrook on Friday (Apr. 24) in Rainbow City.
The Bulldogs wasted no time taking the first step in Game 1.
In the top of the first inning, after a leadoff single and a sacrifice bunt, starting pitcher Peyton Whitten slapped a single to left-center to set up a first and third, one-out situation.
Warrior starter Tanner Kennedy induced Easton Kirk to hit what should have been an inning-ending double-play bouncer to shortstop, but a run scored on an error.
After a walk and consecutive singles by Cale McCord and Derrick Baer, the visitors poured it on. When the dust cleared, Piedmont had four first-inning runs. With Whitten on the mound, that margin was more than enough.
Coming off a 19-strikeout performance against Glencoe in the first round, Whitten limited the hosts to three hits. He struck out eight in his six innings of work.
Tyler Pankey drove in Westbrook’s lone run with a clean single in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Kennedy was strong early on but couldn’t overcome five errors behind him. The first-inning miscue cost him all four runs and forced him to throw extra 19 pitches after the inning should have been over. Piedmont plated seven more runs off him and a couple of relievers.
In game two, Westbrook starter Tyler Self breezed through the first inning and should have coasted through the second, but the Warriors committed four consecutive fielding errors.
After a leadoff groundout, McCord reached on a fielding error and Baer on a throwing error on a potential double-play bouncer.
Ry Atkins and Darnell Jackson each singled and, with throwing errors attached to their hits, the Bulldogs were again off and running again with an early four-run lead. Westbrook head coach Matt Kennedy said his team’s porous defense was basically a case of growing pains for his young squad.
“We have a lot of really young kids playing, and when that’s true, you expect that you’re not going to have every play made behind your pitchers. That’s pretty much what happened tonight. Piedmont has a lot of great athletes that are playoff-tested, and they put the ball in play and forced us to make plays. We didn’t always get that done, and that was the biggest difference.”
Piedmont added two more runs in the third inning and, like Whitten in game one, Game 2 starter Taylor Hayes had plenty to work while throwing a 113-pitch complete game.
The Warriors did rally in the fifth. Garret Kennedy had an infield single and RBI, then Ethan Campbell stroked an RBI single to left and later scored on a stolen base and a wild pitch.
However, Piedmont bounced back with a run in the bottom half of the inning to make it 7-3.
Two more runs in the sixth off reliever Walker Ellison closed out the scoring and ended the Warriors’ season at 14-18.
“I’m so proud of these young kids that are already experiencing postseason baseball,” said Matt Kennedy. “Nobody expected us to be all that strong this year, and here we are in the second round of the state playoffs. We have a lot to be proud of. A big share of the credit needs to go to the senior class (Tanner Kennedy, Campbell, Pankey, Ellison and Ryan Padgett) that led them and helped them to grow up in a hurry.”