Smiths Station coach Mike Ferry told his team during Saturday’s pivotal doubleheader with region rival Central that the team that wins the second contest in a three-game series usually goes on to win the third.
At the end of the day, his team was happy to inform him he was wrong.
The Panthers fell in the first of two games on Saturday at Darnell-Nelson Field, 2-1 in a game that pitcher Max Newton carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning. After a wild finish in which the Red Devils won on a walk-off suicide squeeze, the Panthers refocused, recovered and won the rubber match going away, 13-2 in five innings, to clinch a berth in the Class 7A state playoffs.
“I told the guys after that first game that in my experience the team that wins Game 2 usually goes on to win the series,” Ferry said. “I told them, ‘I hope I’m wrong.’”
After a wild finish in the first game, it would have been easy to see why Ferry felt that way.
Instead, the Panthers wasted no time in the second game of the doubleheader, putting two runners on with one out to set up a three-run home run by Nigel Lawrence in the first inning. They put the game away with a six-run third inning, added two more in the fourth and completed the 10-run rule with two in the fifth for the 13-2 win.
“The hits early, it happened to be a three-run homer,” Ferry said. “It takes a load off our hitters and our pitcher. In a game where everything’s on the line, it allows you to just loosen up and play.”
“It gave us momentum,” Lawrence said. “It just switched things around after that first game. That was big for us.”
The Panthers got a strong outing on the hill from pitcher Trent Hollingsworth, who went the distance in the deciding game. He gave up just two runs on five hits, a two-run homer by Slade Gorman.
“He threw well enough,” Ferry said. “He got behind hitters a little bit. When you’re behind, good hitters are going to hit one right down the middle. We were fortunate we had a 7- or 8-run lead, so he was able to just say, ‘I’m just going to keep on pitching.’”
Game 1 was all about the pitching.
Smiths Station had led the game for nearly six innings, and Newton was one borderline ball-four away from being perfect. But Central got its first hit from Jackson Cook on an infield single in the bottom of the sixth inning. He was sacrificed to second and went to third on a groundout by Evan Baber. With two outs, Slade Gorman drove in the game-tying run.
In the bottom of the final inning, Central loaded the bases with nobody out and hit a lazy fly ball down the right-field line, which Smiths Station right fielder Nigel Lawrence let drop, hoping it would fall foul to prevent the winning run coming home on a sacrifice fly.
The ball appeared to land in fair territory, setting off a celebration by the Red Devils, but after huddling umpires ruled it a foul ball. The batter, Cook, struck out. Dakota Pittman, however, brought in the run on a suicide squeeze to give Central a 2-1 win.
“Max did everything we needed him to do,” Ferry said. “We came out early and got a run and thought we’d do the same thing we’ve been doing. But (Central pitcher Ethan Baber), he just got big. He sucked it up and battled and threw a great game against us.”
Baber gave up just four hits for Central, picking up what was at the time a crucial victory.
“He’s a special kid,” Central coach Roy Dixon said of Baber. “Going into Game 2, knowing we needed a win, we didn’t consider anyone else on the mound. We knew he was going to give our team a chance to win. Those are things that he’s done in three different sports. He did exactly what we expected him to do.”
Smiths Station will play a makeup game with Callaway on Tuesday as a final preparation for the state playoffs, which it will begin next Friday at Enterprise.
“I think we’re in good shape,” Ferry said of his team entering the postseason. “As you saw out of us last year, the team that’s hot is the team that will advance. Right now, I’m not sure we’re the same kind of hot. But I think we can still get that.”
Central’s season came to a close with the loss.
“Our goal was to make the playoffs and compete for a state championship,” Dixon said. “Until we do that we’re falling short of our goals. But I’m really proud of a young team that was able to fight.”
Saturday at Darnell-Nelson Field
Smiths Station 100 000 0—1 4 2
Central 000 001 1—2 3 1
WP—Ethan Baber. LP—Max Newton. Leading hitters—Smiths Station, Grey Norton 2-3, 2 2Bs, Max Newton 1-3, 2B, RBI, Devin Brown 1-3; Central, Slade Gorman 1-3, RBI, Dakota Pittman 1-2, RBI, Weston Dawson 1-3.
Smiths Station 306 22—13 13 1
Central 002 00—2 5 3
WP—Trent Hollingsworth. LP—Weston Dawson. Leading hitters—Smiths Station, Dalton Sinquefield 2-2, 2B, 4 Rs, Max Newton 1-2, RBI, 3 Rs, Nigel Lawrence 3-4, HR, 4 RBIs, 2 Rs, Caleb Lynn 3-4, RBI, Timm McGonegle 1-4, 2 RBIs, R, Porter 1-2, RBI, R, Hunter Woodall 1-2, 2B, 2 RBIs, R. Records—Central, 26-14, 1-4; Smiths Station, 18-12-1, 2-3. Next—Smiths Station, Tuesday at Callaway (makeup game); Central, season over.