The Smiths Station baseball team wasn’t ready to call it quits.
The score wasn’t in its favor, it was already down a game in the series and it only had three outs to work with.
The team scratched. It clawed. But in the end, it wasn’t quite enough.
After a remarkable late-season run, the Panthers were swept by Baker at home in the Class 6A state quarterfinals. They lost Game 1 2-0 and Game 2 6-4, allowing six consecutive runs in the latter after taking an early 3-0 lead.
In the final frame, with only three outs left in its season, Smiths Station loaded the bases with two outs and scored one on an RBI single by Brandon Bryan. Senior Anfernee Moffett put a charge into the first pitch he saw, sending it deep to right-center field and hooking away from the centerfielder, Justin Collier. Collier tracked it down just shy of the warning track, however, for the final out of the season.
“Heck no,” coach Mike Ferry agreed when told it didn’t look like his team was ready to quit playing. “Who would? You get to this point, you’re going to face some good teams. Tonight, we made a few mistakes that cost us. I won’t hang my head, though. I think we accomplished more than a lot of people probably thought we would.”
He’s right. Twelve games ago, the Panthers were dead in the water, staring at a 13-15 record and on the outside, looking in at the area playoff picture.
A 10-game winning streak, however, earned them a playoff berth and back-to-back sweeps in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The 2-0 loss in Game 1 was Smiths Station’s first loss in nearly a month.
It was a good sign for a team that is losing only five seniors and will bring back the core of the team, including two sophomore pitchers, Max Newton and Blake Rivera, who proved to be aces down the stretch.
“The future looks bright, but I wasn’t looking to the future tonight,” Ferry said with a smile.
He was looking to keep the hot streak going. And when Baker’s Game 1 starter, Chase Brunson, proved to be too much, he was hoping for a split that could give the Panthers an opportunity in Game 3.
“I liked our chances if we could have forced another game tomorrow,” Ferry said.
For a short while it appeared he might get his wish.
The Panthers got a run in the second on a sacrifice fly from Moffett and two runs in the fourth on a home run by Caleb Lynn and another RBI by Moffett, this time on a single.
Baker struck back with a run in the bottom of the fourth, however, and then took control with a five-run fifth inning in which it sent 10 men to the plate.
Dylan Crutcher hit a monster two-run home run to tie things and then Nick Franzone reached on an infield single. Rivera was injured on the play and had to leave the game. The next four batters reached, three on singles, including one for two RBIs. By the time the frame was over, Baker had a commanding 6-3 lead.
Smiths Station made a push late, but Moffett’s hard-hit fly ball ultimately found leather.
It was a theme for the evening.
“I thought we hit some deep balls in the first game, too,” Ferry said. “We squared some up, we just hit them right at people.”
Baker will go on to the state semifinals, where it will face the winner of Spain Park and Northview. Spain Park won Game 1 and was leading Northview 5-3 as of press time.
Friday at Smiths Station
Baker 110 000 0—2 6 0
Smiths 000 000 0—0 8 1
WP—Chase Brunson. LP—Max Newton. Leading hitters—Smiths Station, Newton 2-3, Devin Brown 3-3.
Smiths 010 200 1—4 12 2
Baker 000 150 x—6 9 1
WP—Lukas Young. LP—Blake Rivera. Leading hitters—Smiths Station, Grey Norton 2-4, Caleb Lynn 1-4, HR, RBI, Cody Harrison 2-4, 2B, Brandon Bryan 3-4, RBI, Anfernee Moffett 1-4, 2 RBIs, Nigel Lawrence 2-3, 2B. Records—Smiths Station, 25-15.