Southside beats Hartselle for spot in title series
Sat. May 12, 2012 at 12:03 a.m. | By Nick Johnston Sports Writer
Southside’s Taylor Snow tags second base as Hartselle’s Colton Ord slides to the bag during the opening of the Class 5A state semifinal series against Hartselle in Southside on Friday. (Photo by Dave Hyatt | Gadsden Times)
SOUTHSIDE — The giant monkey — or Tiger — finally is off Blake Bone’s back.
Bone’s Southside Panthers swept the No. 6 Hartselle Tigers on Friday night in the semifinals of the Class 5A state high school baseball playoffs to advance to the championship series next week in Montgomery.
The Panthers (27-15) took the opener 4-2 and the nightcap 6-2 to set off a wild celebration at a packed Danny League Field. It was the first time in four postseason meetings with the Tigers that Bone and the Panthers came out on top.
“It’s one of those feelings, it’s unexplainable,” said Bone, who took the Panthers to a semifinal series in Hartselle two years ago only to get upset as the state’s second-ranked team at the time. “This year, this season, it’s unbelievable. I can’t put into words what I’m feeling right now.”
Southside plays Spanish Fort, which swept Chilton County on Friday, in next week’s championship series starting at 4 p.m. Friday at Patterson Field in Montgomery. Game two will be at 10 a.m the following day at Riverwalk Stadium with an if-necessary game immediately after.
The difference Friday night against Hartselle (37-22) was pitching. Alex Pondick and Andrew Fuhrman were solid on the mound, with Pondick getting the win in game one and Fuhrman taking the victory in the nightcap.
“This is great,” said Pondick, who allowed two runs on six hits. “I haven’t experienced anything like this before. Getting to experience a crowd like this was exhilarating, but I just came into it as a regular game knowing that my defense was going to be behind me.”
Furhman danced in and out of trouble throughout the nightcap but stranded 11 Tigers on base. He allowed two runs on eight hits and struck out five.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” said Fuhrman, who was celebrating with the student section that had poured onto the field from their seats in left. “I don’t even know what to do.”
In the opener, Pondick froze Hartselle’s Colton Ord with a 3-2 inside breaking ball to end the game.
Pondick had to battle to hold the two-run lead in the seventh, as after getting the first two outs of the inning, he allowed base hits by Easton Chenault and Deacon Aldridge to put runners on second and third.
But Pondick, even as his pitch count was nearing 100, made Ord his fourth strikeout victim of the day.
“It’s a mental game,” Pondick said. “Coach Bone has stressed that to us all year — you have to be mentally tough. I handled that pressure better because of my coaches. So I can make that last pitch and get that last out of the game.
Bone said Pondick has been clutch all season.
“He’s a competitor and a great kid,” Bone said. “You love it for him because he’s such a great kid. He gives us a chance every time he goes to the mound and gets stronger as the game goes on.”
Hartselle’s Tyler Phillips opened the scoring in the first game by stealing home in the second inning. With runners on the corners, Pondick faked a pickoff throw to third and caught Dax Gillespie trying to advance to second. Pondick held the ball too long and looked too late to home after running down Gillespie between the base pads. When he hesitated to look home before throwing to second, he allowed Gillespie to return to first safely and the Tigers to draw first blood. Phillips was pinch running for Chris Brown, who had singled to lead off the inning.
The 1-0 score remained until the fourth when Southside came up with a two-out rally. After Hartselle starter Colby Nelson got two outs on two pitches, the Panthers reeled off four straight base hits. Hits by Blake Devine and Drew Mullinax led to a two-RBI single by freshman pinch hitter Brock Love. Cody Pylant then drove home Love to give Southside a 3-1 advantage.
“That was the turning point of the game, maybe the day even,” Bone said of Love’s clutch hit. “I have confidence in him. He’s got that poise you don’t see in a lot of freshman.
Southside added another run in the fifth. Caleb Butler reached on a two-out error, and Taylor Snow laced a double to the right-center field gap to score Butler from first.
Hartselle got one run back in the sixth, as Kaleb Jones hit an RBI double to the fence and scored Austin Spangler. But Jones was cut down trying to stretch the hit into a triple for the third out, ending the threat.
Fuhrman was the only player for either team to get multiple hits, as he went 2 for 3.
Nelson suffered the loss for the Tigers, allowing three runs on seven hits and striking out two.
In the second game, Southside jumped on top 2-0 in the first when Fuhrman scored on an error and Snow sent Braxton Light home on a sacrifice fly.
Southside added three more in the second to chase Hartselle starter Jackson Smith. Mullinax led off with a double and scored on Cody Pylant’s RBI single. Two batters later, J.T. Cross — who was running for Pylant — scored on Fuhrman’s two-out bunt single to give the Panthers a 4-0 lead. Holt Keeling, who was running for Fuhrman, advanced to second on a passed ball and then scored on Light’s RBI single.
Smith suffered the loss, allowing five runs on six hits while striking out two in 1 1/3 innings off work.
Fuhrman dug himself into trouble in the second inning. He loaded the bases with no outs and allowed a run on Easton Chenault’s sacrifice fly. Light, Southside’s right fielder, made a spectacular diving catch on the play, but the ball was deep enough to score Jones and send Blake Slayton to third. Fuhrman then settled down to force a fly out by Deacon Aldridge before locking up Ord on a breaking ball for a strikeout.
Fuhrman worked out of trouble again in the third, stranding two more runners. Then in the fourth, Fuhrman killed a suicide squeeze attempt by hopping off the mound on a bunt attempt by Ord and throwing home to catcher Pylant, who blocked the plate and tagged out Chenault.
Fuhrman needed 78 pitches to get through the first four innings but also stranded two Hartselle runners in each frame.
“There were some innings where they had the opportunity to have a big inning and Andrew was able to pitch out of it,” Bone said. “He made big pitches in big situations, and he’s done that all year.”
Neither team could cross the plate from the third through the sixth innings, but Southside added an insurance run in the seventh. Light hit an RBI single to score Cross, who was running for Pylant.
Hartselle scored a meaningless run in the bottom of the seventh, and the celebration was on when Fuhrman — on his 123rd pitch of the contest — struck out Slayton looking to end the game.