There are few situations with more pressure than getting the ball as the starting pitcher in a win-or-go-home game. If Blake Rivera, Smiths Station’s sophomore pitcher, was under pressure in that situation on Friday, though, he wasn’t showing it.
In a game the Panthers needed to win, River tossed blanks against Central, no-hitting the Red Devils over five innings to lead his team to a 10-0 run-shortened win.
The win, coupled with Auburn’s victory over Opelika in the first game of their doubleheader, clinched a playoff berth that seemed improbable heading into the weekend.
“We had to control what we could control, and we came out and did what we needed to do,” Smiths Station coach Mike Ferry said. “(Rivera) came out with a heck of a game and we actually got some hits behind him, se we did our job.”
At the time of the victory, Auburn and Opelika were still locked in a tight contest up the road. The Tigers came from behind in the game to win 4-3 and give Smiths Station the boost it needed.
But it was still Rivera’s day that will earn the most ‘attaboys’ in the dugout.
In five innings, he allowed no hits, struck out four and walked three. It was his second no-hitter of the season, his first coming against Russell County.
Only once did he get into any real trouble. In the second inning, he walked the first two batters with Smiths Station only ahead 1-0.
Ferry took a mound visit, gave his pitcher some sage advice and Rivera responded with a strikeout and a ground ball for a double play.
“He just told me to calm down and throw strikes,” Rivera said. “Let my defense work behind me.”
And it did.
“We got a big double play ball that got him out of it,” Ferry said. “I just told him to throw strikes, trust his stuff and make them beat him. That’s the mentality you have to take to the mound. They’re going to have to beat me. I’m not going to give anything to them.”
After that, Rivera walked just one more batter en route to the no-hitter.
It helped, of course, that he had such a potent offense to back him up.
Smiths Station struck for one run in the first and three in the second to give Rivera a four-run cushion early in the game. Once he found his rhythm, the Panthers were just pushing runs across to shorten the game. They did, scoring one more in the fourth and walking off with their fifth run in the fifth inning to end the game by mercy rule, 10-0.
“They gave me a great cushion today,” Rivera said. “It always helps a lot to get that type of offense behind you.”
The Panthers were led by Dalton Sinquefield, who was 2 for 2 with three RBIs, and Caleb Lynn was 1 for 1 with three RBIs. Lynn got two of his RBIs on sacrifice flies and then drove in another with a double in the second inning.
Brandon Bryan added two hits and an RBI, the latter coming on a single in the fifth inning that ended the game.
Looking forward to the playoffs, Ferry said he’s happy the team has a chance to make some more noise after losing so many key players from last year’s squad.
“They’re puppies,” he said. “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.”
SMITHS ST. 11, CENTRAL 8
Smiths Station scored five runs in the third inning and four runs in the fourth inning to take command.
Dustin Martin went 3-for-4 and drove in two runs for the Panthers.
Ty Galliher (4-3) picked up the win.
Friday at Smiths Station
Central 000 00—0 0 3
Smiths Station 130 15—10 7 0
WP—Blake Rivera. LP—Jesse Ford. Leading hitters—Smiths Station, Dalton Sinquefield 2-2, 3 RBIs, Caleb Lynn 1-1, 2B, 3 RBIs, Brandon Bryan 2-3, RBI.
Central 110 024 0 —8 8 3
Smiths Sta. 115 400 x —11 9 0
WP—Ty Galliher (4-3). LP—Edmonds. Hitting leaders—Smiths Station: Dustin Martin 3-4, 2 RBI; Austin Porter 2-3, RBI; Devin Brown 2-3, 2B. Records—Smiths Station 20-15. Next—Smiths Station hosts Russell County 5 p.m. Tuesday.