Smiths Station advances with doubleheader sweep of Auburn

dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.comApril 26, 2014 

AUBURN, Ala. -- Smiths Station hadn't defeated Auburn all season.

In fact, its losing streak dated back to the 2013 AHSAA playoffs, when Auburn surprised the Panthers with a pair of wins in the second round.

In two big late-game performances on Friday, however, the Panthers exorcised all their demons to stay alive in the Class 6A playoffs.

They swept the doubleheader from the Tigers 5-4 and 14-7, coming up big in their final at-bats of both games.

"We knew it was going to be a challenge," Panthers coach Mike Ferry said. "That' s a top quality team. It makes a run every year."

Smiths Station led Game 2 7-6 after five innings, but allowed Auburn to tie the game with a solo home run in the top of the sixth. All the signs pointed to a close finish in the final inning until the Panthers struck for seven runs in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Seven straight batters came around to score for the Panthers in the inning, helped along by a two-RBI double from Anfernee Moffett to take the lead and a two-RBI single from Devin Brown to extend it. Grey Norton added an RBI double and Dalton Sinquefield drove in two more with a double.

"That's the beauty of baseball. You fail more than you succeed, but one hit can change everything," Ferry said of Moffett's go-ahead double. Moffett had previously been 0-for-4 over the course of the two games. "He got that double and started the merry-go-round, and that's what people will remember."

With the win, Smiths Station avenged its second-round loss to Auburn a season ago and continued an impressive late-season run that has seen it win 10 consecutive games.

The Panthers clinched a playoff berth in its final area series of the season with a sweep of Central. It topped Lee-Montgomery in the first round before sweeping Auburn in the second.

It will play in the Class 6A quarterfinals next week.

Blake Rivera got the win on the mound in Game 2 despite allowing seven runs, though three were unearned coming on the heels of four Panthers errors in a four-run third inning for the Tigers. Ferry praised the sophomore's ability to battle.

"He did a great job of rebounding and settling down," Ferry said. "He didn't have his best stuff, but he battled and gave us a chance."

In Game 1 of the doubleheader, Smiths Station was down to its final two outs, trailing Auburn 3-2 in the top of the seventh inning before scoring three runs in the final frame to take the lead.

A hit batter, a sacrifice bunt by Brown, a walk and an RBI single by Sinquefield tied the game at 3-3. A wild pitch brought the go-ahead run across the plate, and the Panthers added an insurance run when pitcher Max Newton was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.

Newton gave up a solo home run to Troy Williams in the bottom of the seventh, but struck out the other three batters he faced in the inning to close out the victory. Newton went the distance, pitching all seven innings and allowing four runs, three earned, on six hits. He struck out eight batters in the game.

"Max did a heck of a job," Ferry said. "He held them at bay the entire game."

Newton also helped himself with a solo home run to lead off the second inning to give the Panthers an early 1-0 lead. After the Tigers tied the game in the fourth, Nigel Lawrence hit a solo home run on the first pitch of the fifth inning to help the Panthers briefly regain the lead.

"I think that probably loosened us up a little," Ferry said of Newton's early home run.

Auburn scored one run each in the fourth through seventh innings, momentarily taking control with its third run of the game, coming in the sixth inning. After a leadoff single, Titus O'Neal sacrificed Haven Barnes to second. Smiths Station failed to cover third on the play, allowing Barnes to advance and then threw the ball away. Barnes came in to score on the error to give Auburn a 3-2 lead.

Auburn got a strong start from Michael Lee, who pitched 4 1/3 innings and allowed just two runs on four hits. He did not get a decision in the game.

Sinquefield was 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI in the first game. Newton was 1-for-1 with a home run and two RBIs, and Nigel Lawrence was 1-for-2 with a home run.

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