Photo: Westbrook Christian’s Samuel Dutton (left) dives back to second base as Mars Hill Bible’s Hugh Hargett awaits the pickoff throw during Game 1 of the Class 2A baseball state semifinals on Wednesday, May 12 in Rainbow City. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
The Westbrook Christian baseball team is headed to the Capitol City this week.
The Warriors defeated Mars Hill Bible, 12-7, in the deciding third game of a Class 2A semifinal series on Thursday, May 13, in Rainbow City.
Westbrook (28-9) will face G.W. Long in the best-of-three state championship series beginning Monday, May 17 at Paterson Field. Game 2 is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Tuesday at Riverwalk Stadium, with an if-necessary Game 3 to follow.
Westbrook had to battle back from an early deficit in Thursday’s Game 3 after Mars Hill plated four runs in the top of the first inning. But the Warriors responded with four runs of their own in the bottom of the inning and took the lead for good with another four runs in the second.
Each team scored a run in the third inning to make it 9-5 in favor of Westbrook, while a three-run sixth put the Warriors ahead 12-5.
Winning pitcher Brodie Self, who came in relief in the third, held the Panthers scoreless in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. He ended up allowing three hits, two earned runs and two walks while striking out two.
Westbrook endured a few anxious moments in the top of the seventh when Mars Hill loaded the bases with no outs, but the Panthers could only push across two runs before reliever Dalton Grace induced the third out and secured the Warriors’ second straight semifinal series victory. Westbrook starter Martin Beall went two and two-third innings, allowing five hits, five runs and four walks. Only two of the runs were earned.
“We knew that all three guys were going to throw strikes and give us a chance,” said Kennedy.
Our pitching really stepped up. If we kept putting up zeros, eventually we were going to score.”
Kennedy was impressed with how quickly his players shrugged off the Panthers’ early offensive outburst.
“We haven’t been in that situation much at all this year, but the intensity in the dugout never changed and their focus didn’t change. This is a high energy team that thrives when there’s challenge in from of them. These guys also encourage each other, from the guys who play every day to the guys who are role players.”
Will Noles and Micaiah Myers both had big games at the plate for Westbrook, the former going 4-for-5 with an RBI and four runs scored and the latter going 3-for-3 with two doubles, five RBI and a run scored.
Cole Patterson went 2-for-3 with a double and two RBI, Grace went 2-for-3 with an RBI, Fisher Glasgow went 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored, Samuel Dutton and Presley White each had a hit and two runs scored, Self had a hit, an RBI and a run scored and Carson Wiggins had three runs scored.
Noles stymied the Panther hitters in the series opener on May 12, tossing a complete-game two-hitter in an 8-0 victory. In seven innings, the senior righthander issued four walks while striking out eight. Noles helped his cause with two-RBI double.
The Warriors led 2-0 after the one inning, 3-0 after two, 4-0 after three 6-0 after five and 8-0 after six. At the plate, Patterson went 3-for-3 with a double and two RBI, Dutton went 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored Glasgow had a hit and two runs scored and White had a hit and an RBI.
Bo Mitchell had both hits for Mars Hill.
In Game 2, Panther starter Cody Watson limited the Westbrook lineup to five hits and two walks in a 6-2 victory. He allowed one earned run while fanning four. White took the loss, allowing three hits and two unearned runs and four walks with two strikeouts. Noles went 2-for-2 with an RBI, White went 2-for-3 and Caiden Wyatt had a double and a run scored.
Kenned pointed to the senior leadership of Dutton, Fisher Glasgow, Noles, Patterson, Myers, White, Wiggins, Wyatt, Martin Beall and Harrison Beall as crucial to the team’s success, particularly after the loss of Dutton from the pitching staff prior to the second round of the playoffs.
“I could tell going into this season that those guys had a different vibe about them. But after we lost Sam as a pitcher, you could sense their resiliency. To me, they could have just folded up after that, so having those senior leaders makes such a big difference. I came back [as head coach] in 2006, and out of all those teams, this one seems to have a little something different.”
“It’s really special that we get to finish out our high school careers by playing for a state championship,” said Paterson, who recently signed with Lawson State. “Hope we can get to Montgomery and finish it out with a win.”
“It’s just a great way to end our high school career,” said Dutton, who signed with LSU last fall. “Hopefully we can come back with the blue trophy this time.”
“The last time we were [in Montgomery], we didn’t get the results we wanted, so hopefully this year we can bear down and get that result,” said White.
“Getting to play this year was a big blessing after all the COVID stuff last season,” said Glasgow. “It’s an awesome experience to get to go back [to Montgomery] this year.”
Noles, who signed with UAH last fall, transferred in from Etowah prior to his junior year.
“It was awesome in how these guys accepted me right off the bat. The bond is so strong, it’s like a brotherhood. Not many seniors get to play for two state titles like we have, so it’s a great opportunity to go out there and show what we can do.”
“We got stripped of [the chance to play for a state title] last year, and this year a lot of people didn’t think we would be back this year after we lost a couple of players,” said Myers. “So it feels really great to be able to go back to Montgomery.”
“It’s definitely a great way to end our senior year to get to go to Montgomery,” said Wyatt. “I’m super excited to experience it, like these guys are, for sure.”
“It’s such a blessing to get to play for a state title, especially growing up at this school and being here for so long,” said Wiggins. “Mars Hill is great in most sports, so it was nice to beat them after the way they put it on us so bad in football.”
“It’s great to go to Montgomery after only two years especially with this group of seniors,” said Harrison Beall.
“Especially with the way we had the season ripped away from us last year when we believed that we had a really good shot of making it back, it’s great to be back this year as a senior,” said Martin Beall.
Kennedy knows all too well what challenges lie ahead against G.W. Long, which defeated Westbrook in both the 2019 and 2013 2A championship series. The Rebels are the three-time defending Class 2A champions and have won four of the last seven state titles.
“I don’t know if they have the guys they had in 2019, but doesn’t matter what year it is with that program; they’ve always got “G.W. Long” stitched across their jerseys. [Head coach] Drew [Miller] does a great job of preparing his team, so it will be a huge accomplishment if we can at least win one game and then try to get it to have a chance to win a championship. We’ve never won a game in a championship series, so hopefully we’ll get that monkey off our back this time around.”