Southside hosts Etowah in 5A playoffs


Southside’s Alex Pondick and the Panthers face Etowah today in the second round of the playoffs. (Photo by Marc Golden | Gadsden Times | File)


Familiarity breeds contempt.

That idiom likely rings true for the rivals who will step on the field today.

No. 5 Southside hosts seventh-ranked Etowah today in the second round of the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 5A state baseball playoffs. First pitch of the doubleheader is scheduled for 5 p.m.

It’s matchup of Area 13 and Etowah County rivals that promises to be quite the spectacle for fans at Danny League Field.

“I know they’re going to travel a good crowd and I know our home fans will be here to support our guys,” Southside coach Blake Bone said. “I definitely look forward to a packed house and a lot of intensity, I would imagine, from the crowd.”

Etowah coach Larry Foster echoed that sentiment, adding, “It’ll be pretty electric.”

Southside (26-10) won the regular-season, best-of-three series against Etowah (27-9), beating the Blue Devils twice on their home field in late March. Before that, Etowah defeated Southside on the Panthers’ home field.

Now, the teams play a best-of-three series for a chance to reach the state quarterfinals. It’s a day Foster knew was coming.

“Going into the season, we knew Southside was going to be our competition and be the one we had to beat,” he said. “It’s been that way as long as I’ve been in coaching around here. They’ve been our competition, and of course we’ve developed a rivalry.

“The rivalry I don’t think is as bad between the players as it is the fans. Players seem to get along, and they play the game. The parents and former players on both sides, you know, they tend to have a lot of pride in both programs. So, most of the time that’s where the rivalry comes from.”

Bone, a 1997 graduate of Southside, said he vividly remembers playing against Etowah in high school. More lifelong memories could be made today.

“It’s big, and it dates back to when I was playing,” Bone said. “I can still remember games that we played against them, things that happened 15 years ago. It’s a big deal for these guys and something they’ll remember for a long time.”

Bone and Foster are very familiar with each other. While Foster coached against Bone during his playing days, he also coached Bone during the summer on a team that traveled the Southeast.

“He’s a quality coach and a guy I’ve known for a long time,” Bone said. “You kind of enjoy coaching against guys that coached you.”

He gets another chance today.

Southside reached the second round by sweeping Scottsboro last week. The Panthers outscored the Wildcats 29-1, but things probably won’t come so easy for them today.

“We know each other well and play each other pretty tough,” Bone said of his team and Etowah. “They got a quality team. They pitch the ball well, play solid defense and they swing the bats.

“It should be exciting, and we’re looking forward to it.”

Etowah advanced to the second round of the postseason for the first time since 2007 by beating Arab on the road last week. The Blue Devils won the first game 7-0 before falling 8-5 in the nightcap to force a deciding Game 3 Monday. Etowah rallied twice in the game and won it on Colby Dunn’s walk-off RBI single in the eighth inning

“Our kids, in that last ball game, we really showed some resolve,” Foster said. “We just kept battling, and that’s what we’ve done all year as a team.”

That certainly was the case March 21 at Southside.Etowah fell behind 3-0 in the third inning and trailed 4-3 in the seventh before rallying to win 5-4 against Southside ace Alex Pondick.

The Blue Devils also were helped by four Panther errors in the infield, and Foster is aware his team probably needs a little more help again today.

“They’re strong in every phase of the game,” he said. “If we beat them, we’re going to have to get some help from them. That’s kind of what we did the time we did beat them. But I think our kids will show up ready to play and play hard.”

Going to the mound today for Southside likely will be Pondick and Andrew Fuhrman. Pondick pitched four innings against Scottsboro and struck out seven. Fuhrman got two innings of work in the nightcap, needing 15 pitches to get all six outs, so both should be well-rested for tonight.

Patrick Lister, Jesse Fry and Brock Love also could see time on the mound.

All of those players — including hitters Drew Mullinax, Hunter Clough, Blake Devine and Cody Pylant, among others — have big-game experience after making it through the state playoffs last year to reach the 5A championship series in Montgomery.

“Southside, being in the state finals last year, that really helps,” Foster said. “They’ve been there and they’ve got the kids who’s seen that kind of competition. If you’ve got kids who’ve been in the heat of the battle like that, they tend to play better when they’re playing good close ballgames.”

Foster should know. He won three state titles when he was with the Blue Devils from 1981 until leaving in 2004. He’s in his first year back with the school, and he’ll send out pitchers Dunn and Josh Bobo today to keep the season alive.

“Mainly, we’re going to rely on Colby and Josh to get us late in ballgames and get us in an opportunity to win,” Foster said.

There are others for Foster to turn to, like Nick Humphreys, Blane Payne, Chris Steele and Kyle Underwood. All have a shot at seeing time on the mound today.

At the plate, freshman Paul Ruiz has shown he has a bright future. Foster relies on the speedy center fielder to put pressure on defenses in the leadoff spot.

“He hits the ball and has a lot of speed,” Foster said. “He’s been a good player all year long.”