Kevin Price commentary: Panthers making most of playoffs

April 27, 2014 

Look at what the Atlanta Hawks are doing. After a season wrecked by injuries, the Hawks are trying to shock the world by upsetting top-seed Indiana.

Closer to home, look at this year's Smiths Station baseball team. It should be the poster child for a team to never give up on itself.

The postseason can right so many wrongs. It allows teams that had a significant injury to one of its key players to get a second chance. It allows a team such as Smiths Station that has a new coach and a mostly new roster a chance to grow into a successful team.

The Panthers head into the state quarterfinals on Friday as one of only eight teams that have a chance to win an AHSAA Class 6A title.

They will host Baker beginning with a doubleheader at 6 p.m.

That is pretty heady stuff, even for the teams that had great regular seasons.

But think about where the Panthers were just a few short weeks ago.

Smiths Station opened Area 5 play by getting swept by Auburn.

The Panthers still had a series against Opelika and Central, but the Panthers looked like anything but a playoff team. They were barely a .500 team at 14-13.

Then the calendar turned to April.

The Panthers lost the first game to Opelika, but then the Panthers turned things around on April 3 with a sweep of the Bulldogs.

In a non-area doubleheader, they lost the first game to Chilton County, then gained a split with a win in Game 2.

Then a week later, the Panthers swept Central to clinch a playoff berth. They added a non-area win over Russell County before the playoffs started.

During the first two rounds of the state tournament, they have swept Lee-Montgomery and Auburn, avenging the losses a month earlier.

Those wins over Auburn also wiped away the sting of last season's second-round loss to Auburn -- if not for the current coach and players, then certainly for Smiths Station fans.

In all, the Panthers have won nine straight since that April 5 loss to Chilton County. For the month of April, they went 11-2.

"They're puppies," Michael Ferry told the Ledger-Enquirer's David Mitchell after they clinched a playoff berth.

"They're young kids. We lost a great group of seniors last year. So, for us to put ourselves in position to make the playoffs is big time for these kids. It's going to pay dividends in the future."

The future has gotten here a lot quicker than most anyone, including Ferry, might have thought.

The Panthers need just six more wins to capture a state championship.

The first two must come against Baker this weekend.

Kevin Price, kprice@ledger-enquirer.com, 706-320-4493. Follow Kevin on Twitter@lesports and on Facebook at facebook.com/ledgerenquirersports.

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