By Stan Veitch/Sports Correspondent
A sweep is sweet – at least, to the sweepers.
Westbrook Christian High had the luxury of finishing a sweep in the third round of the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s Class 3A state baseball playoffs last Friday (May 6) in Rainbow City, beating Pisgah 7-4 and 2-2 and avoiding a Saturday “if” game.
“That was great,” Warrior coach Matt Kennedy said. “It’s always good when you can finish it off on Friday night and not have to worry about getting everything ready for another game.”
The win sends Westbrook (26-10) to the state semifinals – a place where almost no one expected it to get that far, because of so much youth on the team.
“We start five sophomores and have a ninth-grader on the roster,” Kennedy said. “Even if we lose next week, this experience will help the team tremendously. Baseball is a funny game, and sometimes you get good bounces that help you move on. You just ride it as long as you can.”
The Warriors host Madison Academy on Friday (may 13) in a doubleheader starting at 5 p.m. The if-necessary third game is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday.
In 2013, Westbrook got as far as the state championship series, where G.W. Long won. Last year, the Warriors lost in the second round.
So far in ’16, pitching is carrying a huge part of the load. Tyler Self has started all three series openers. In the first and second round, Garret Kennedy started the second game. In the third round, Troy Bearden pitched the second game.
“We didn’t know a lot about Pisgah,” pitching coach Brandon Byers said. “These guys just went out and said that they didn’t need a lot of scouting reports – they knew they had what it would take to win.”
Byers said that he has seven players who he is confident in to toe the rubber. What is amazing is that so far in the playoffs, the Warriors have yet to call in a relief pitcher.
In Friday’s first game, Westbrook struck first, scoring five runs in the third inning.
After Greysen Robinson and Addison Ponder drew walks, Garret Kennedy laid down a bunt and beat it out to load the bases. Chandler Richards hit a fly ball to centerfield, deep enough to score the game’s first run.
Kyle Leonard then hit a two-run single and Bearden followed with an RBI double. Cullen Stafford finished the scoring with a run-scoring fly to center.
In the fifth, the Warriors tacked on two more runs. Richards led off the inning with a walk, then stole second. Leonard drove him in with a single. After Westbrook worked the bases loaded again, Self drove in a run with a sacrifice bunt. The big hit was a double by Caleb Barden.
Pisgah (24-7) broke its goose egg in the sixth, scoring two runs. Audy Smothers hit a single that scored Jay Shirey, who drew a walk. Malachi Griggs then hit a single that drove in Smothers, who had advanced to second on the throw.
The Eagles threatened again in the seventh but couldn’t get the required hit.
Bearden found out at the last minute that he would start.
“(Self) has been starting that second game,” Byers said. “But we just decided to let Troy start because he had been doing well in practice. We’re more than comfortable with any of the seven on the mound. You can’t have enough good pitching, especially in the playoffs.”
Westbrook started the first game by scoring a single run in the first inning, with Garret Kennedy scoring on an error. It was the ultimate manufactured run, as Garret Kennedy walked, then stole second and third.
The Eagles came right back, though, scoring a run in the bottom of the first. Shirey hit a single to left, driving in Cole Heard.
The Warriors went ahead by a 3-1 margin in the fourth. Cullen Stafford hit a solo homer to leftfield and Self followed with a triple to almost the same spot. Self scored on a bunt single by Edwards.
“That’s how it’s been this year,” Bearden said. “If one guy isn’t hitting well, someone else picks him up. They’re out there fighting every game, so I’m always confident they’ll score. Even if we’re ahead, they don’t get complacent.”
Pisgah scored a single run in the sixth, as Shirey reached and later scored on a single by Griggs.
The Warriors then got an insurance run in the top of the seventh, as Edwards led off with a triple and scored on a bunt by Garret Kennedy.
“When they’re executing like they were tonight, we’re hard to beat,” Matt Kennedy said. “Our pitching has been exceptional. (Troy) seemed to get stronger as the game went on.”
Indeed. Bearden finished with 11 strikeouts, eight of them coming in the fifth inning or later. He struck out the side in the fifth.
This week, Westbrook entertains the two-time defending state champion Mustangs.
“There’s not a lot to say about them except they definitely know how to win,” Matt Kennedy said.