The Smiths Station baseball team isn’t entering the playoffs with the same fire it did a season ago. Last year, the Panthers won seven of their final eight regular-season games and carried a five-game winning streak into the first round of the playoffs.
As a result, they swept their first two series’ and made a run to the Class 6A quarterfinals, despite losing nearly their entire starting lineup from 2013.
This year, things are a little different. They are still winning games, but not at quite the same frequency. They were swept by Area 3 champion Auburn in three games, losing two by 10 runs apiece. They were forced into a decisive Game 3 against Central in the area finale before winning that one 13-2 to clinch a playoff berth, albeit a road series against Enterprise.
The Panthers will begin that series on Friday. It will be best-of-three, with the winner set to get either Prattville or Auburn in the second round, which, this season, is the quarterfinals in Class 7A.
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And even though things aren’t trending quite as sharply in a positive direction this year, Smiths Station coach Mike Ferry said after the team’s win over Central last Saturday the he does think the Panthers can catch the same momentum.
“The team that’s hot is usually the team that will advance,” Ferry said. “Right now, I’m not sure we’re the same kind of hot. But I think we can still get that.”
His team certainly has a pair of arms that can make it difficult on any team in a best-of-three series. Blake Rivera was effective in his start against Central last week, earning an 8-1 win over the Red Devils. Max Newton was sensational in the first game of a doubleheader last Saturday, but was saddled with a 2-1 loss when Central scored late runs in the sixth and seventh innings. Prior to that, he had been one borderline ball four call away from perfection.
Against Enterprise, the Panthers will get a team that went undefeated in Area 4 play, but was also far from perfect during the regular season. Enterprise went 20-18 and lost games against both Auburn and Central.
This is the third straight season Smiths Station has been one of the final 16 teams remaining in the playoffs.
Glenwood to host Hooper on Thursday
The Glenwood baseball team will also play its first games in the AISA Class 3A playoffs. The Gators get started with a doubleheader at home against Hooper Academy on Thursday (4:30 and 7 p.m.).
It is the second round of the playoffs after Glenwood got a first-round bye as a top seed in the bracket. Hooper, a 2-seed, defeated Fort Dale in the first round.
Glenwood is trying to defend its state championship a year ago, in which is swept Pike Liberal Arts in the final series.
Last year, Glenwood entered the playoffs at 28-9 before winning six of seven games to win it all. This year, the Gators are 34-3 and haven’t lost since March 14 at its Border Wars tournament, a span of 24 straight games.
They have had even more success than a season ago despite a younger roster in part because of an improved effectiveness at the plate.
“We’ve just put up such bigger numbers,” coach Tim Fanning said. “It’s funny, because we’re younger. We only have two seniors. At any given time, we’re starting five freshmen and sophomores depending on the lineup. But even though we’re young, we’ve still got a lot of experience.”
Glenwood has been led by senior pitcher Lawson Humphries who has posted a 92-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio this season, according to Fanning.
“We worked a lot in the offseason to get him to dominate the zone more,” Fanning said. “His stuff was great last year, but he could get out of sync and walk some guys. This year, he’s just had a lot of confidence.”
Fanning said that, while Glenwood hasn’t played Hooper this year, he knows the team will be similar to those of the past.
“They’re scrappy,” he said. “They usually are. They’re well-coached, and they’re going to be tough to get out. They’ll get after you for seven innings.”
The first game is slated to start at 4:30 p.m. with the second to follow, tentatively set at 7 p.m.