Smiths Station baseball coach Mike Ferry said after his team clinched a playoff berth last week that the most important thing was that they were still alive.
It didn’t matter who they were playing, how they matched up or how the rest of the season had gone. If they were still playing, they still had a chance.
They proved that on Saturday with a first-round sweep of Lee-Montgomery in the AHSAA Class 6A playoffs. The Panthers showed they could get it done in more ways than one, winning 3-2 in a Game 1 pitchers’ duel and 13-1 in a Game 2 blowout.
They will play Auburn in next week’s second round, beginning on Friday. Auburn knocked Smiths Station from the playoffs in a second-round upset a year ago and swept the regular season series this year.
In both games, pitching was dominant for the Panthers. Max Newton got the win in Game 1, allowing just two runs on six hits to move his season record to 6-2. He pitched seven-plus in a win over Central a week ago.
The Panthers did their damage in the third inning, scoring two, and extended their lead to 3-1 in the sixth. Lee-Montgomery clawed back within one in the sixth, but Smiths Station was able to hang on.
Grey Norton was 2 for 4 with two runs scored in the first game, and Ty Galliher notched a triple and an RBI.
The pitching was equally strong in Game 2, though it may have been overshadowed by the offensive eruption.
Smiths Station scored three runs in each of the first three innings and got four in the fourth to extend its lead beyond 10 runs. A scoreless fifth inning for Lee ended the game by mercy rule.
Blake Rivera got the win for the Panthers, going the distance and allowing just a single run on two hits. He was the beneficiary of a run-shortened game last week, pitching a five-inning no-hitter against Central to clinch the playoffs.
Ferry praised his pitchers Saturday evening, noting that they have had control over their pitches, put themselves into good counts and haven’t been forced to throw too many.
“The key for pitching period is throwing strikes and both of them have done that well,” Ferry said. “They’ve limited their free passes. If they work ahead and work to contact, our defense is playing really well right now.”
So was the offense in the second game. Tyler Lynn knocked three hits and drove in two to lead the offense, while Brandon Bryan, Anfernee Moffett and Nigel Lawrence each had two hits. Bryan and Moffett both drove in two, while Lawrence drove in one. Devin Brown also notched an RBI double.
“Our kids are playing with confidence right now and they feel like they can match up with anyone,” Ferry said.
Smiths Station has won eight consecutive games, beginning with two wins over Opelika that saved their playoff hopes.
“The key is, we’re still playing,” Ferry said. “As long as we’re still playing, we have an opportunity.”
Saturday at Lee-Montgomery
Smiths 002 001 0—3 6 0
Lee 000 101 0—2 6 1
WP—Max Newton. LP—Flowers. Leading hitters—Smiths Station, Grey Norton 2-4, 2 Rs, Ty Galliher 1-2, 3B, RBI.
Lee 001 00—1 2 3
Smiths 333 4x—13 13 1
WP—Blake Rivera. LP—Taylor. Leading hitters—Smiths Station, Tyler Lynn 3-3, 2B, 2 RBIs, 2 Rs, Brandon Bryan 2-2, 3B, 2B, 2 RBIs, 2 Rs, Anfernee Moffett 2-2, 2 RBIs, Nigel Lawrence 2-3, 2B, RBI, Devin Brown 1-1, 2B, RBI. Record—Smiths Station, 23-15. Next—Smiths Station, Fri. vs. Auburn/Jeff Davis.