AHSAA Class 6A baseball state quarterfinals: Central-Phenix City is armed and ready for its series at Enterprise

Red Devils rely on trio of starting pitchers who have different stuff but similar success

jerickson@ledger-enquirer.comMay 1, 2012 

Each of Central-Phenix City's three right-handed starters has his way of getting hitters out.

Jordan Brown has the big hook, a curveball that drops like it's falling off of a table. Matt Evenson is the fireballer, an overpowering pitcher who throws between 92 and 94 mph. And if a team makes it to Saturday in a three-game series, Cody Hughes is waiting with a slider that can be awfully tough to fight off with two strikes.

Put together, the Red Devils' trio is a big reason why Central finally got past Prattville last week in a three-game series and has a berth in the Alabama High School Athletic Association state quarterfinals at Enterprise, starting with a doubleheader Friday at 5 p.m.

Most teams have only one top-of-the-rotation starter, but Red Devils coach Chris Heaps is fond of saying he has three pitchers with No. 1 stuff. Hughes has signed with Montevallo, and Brown is signing with Pensacola State College.

"All year, we've been pretty consistent," Evenson said. "We've got three good arms. We've even got some pretty good relievers. I think we're going to go further."

Those two relievers, Cole Jackson and Colten Gatti, are waiting in case one of the starters needs an inning or two of assistance at the end of games. In an Alabama playoff system that requires teams to win best-of-three series to advance, having one transcendent arm guarantees nothing.

Ask Prattville. The state-ranked Lions took the first game of last week's second-round series against Central behind the pitching of ace Austin Crook, who beat Brown's two-hitter.

Evenson and Hughes locked down Prat

tville's lineup in the next two games and sent Central's perennial playoff tormentor home early. Altogether, none of the Red Devils' trio gave up more than three runs to the Lions in any game.

"I love it, being able to go out there and get that first win," Brown said. "Unfortunately, it didn't happen against Prattville, but I had Matt and Cody behind me."

Having three starters with different stuff makes it hard for a team to put together rhythm at the plate, especially in a doubleheader.

Brown throws a high-80s fastball -- he and Hughes have touched 90 but mostly stay between 87 and 89 -- and buckles a hitter's knees with his big curveball.

Right about the time a team starts to stay back on the curve, Game 1 ends, and then Evenson starts bringing the heat.

Make it to Saturday, and Hughes has his own style.

Central's coaching staff prepares three scouting reports on an opponent's lineup, a pitching chart that changes based on who's on the mound.

"When Jordan pitches, when Matt pitches and when I pitch, we're all different kind of pitchers, so we all see how they do against different stuff," Hughes said.

What makes Central's staff even better is the trio's prowess at the plate. In today's age of specialization, a lot of high school pitchers leave their spot in the lineup to the designated hitter. Evenson, Brown and Hughes make up most of the middle of the order in Central's lineup.

"A lot of teams may have one," Hughes said. "They may have their best athlete on the team that does everything, but I don't know many that have all three."

Evenson, who usually bats second, opened the playoffs with a 2-for-4 game against Benjamin Russell. Brown, the cleanup hitter, laced three doubles in that same opener. Hughes tripled to lead off Central's Game 2 win over Prattville, then came back Saturday with a double and a homer.

"We try to help our own selves out," Evenson said. "When we aren't hitting, our other teammates pick us up."

At the plate and on the mound.

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