No. 6 Westbrook Christian hosts No. 10 Ranburne


Mikhail Cazenave and the Westbrook Christian Warriors host Ranburne today in the quarterfinals of the Class 2A state playoffs. (Photo by Nick Johnston | Gadsden Times | File)


Fyffe? Out

No. 1 Section? Out.

No. 10 Ranburne? On deck.

The sixth-ranked Westbrook Christian Warriors try to continue their march to Montgomery with a quarterfinal matchup against Ranburne Friday in the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 2A state baseball playoffs.

The doubleheader begins at 4:30 p.m. at William Stewart Park. If the teams split, they play again at 1 p.m. Saturday with the winner advancing to the semifinals.

This is the fifth straight season the Warriors (21-12) have reached the third round of the playoffs. They’re doing it with stellar pitching and stout defense.

“Our stability this year is our pitching and defense,” coach Matt Kennedy said. “They’ve done an excellent job this year.”

Westbrook has rolled through the playoffs so far with two sweeps. It outscored Fyffe 21-0 in the first round at home and beat top-ranked Section last week on the road to advance.

Mikhail Cazenave, the team’s ace, is 9-1 with a 1.01 ERA this season. Jake Kilgo is 7-1 with a 1.50 ERA.

The Warriors have at least four other pitchers to send to the mound, including Matthew Reaves, who earned the win in relief in Game 2 against Section.

“We’ve got a little more depth pitching this year because of what coach (Bob) Cartrett, (Brandon) Byars and (Ryan) Carter have been able to do with these guys,” Kennedy said. “It’s a program. You get guys involved in your program that know the game and then you teach your kids that. Now, are they always going to do everything correct? Absolutely not, just like (the coaches are) not. But when they are buying into it, and your coaching staff is onboard with it, it makes a huge difference.”

Kennedy said he was “blessed” to have Cartrett, Byars and Carter as assistants, adding, “the best thing I’ve found is, let them do their job and me stay out of the way.”

Cartrett is an experienced pitching coach, winning state championships while coaching under Larry Foster at Etowah. Kennedy talked him out of retirement before the 2010 season and he’s been with the Warriors ever since.

“I thought it was going to be a couple of days a week, and it’s five days a week,” Kennedy said with a laugh.

Byars, who played for state title teams at Hokes Bluff, calls the pitches, and Carter played under Cartrett at Etowah.

“I’ve got some good connections,” Kennedy said. “It’s been really nice, because those guys really know baseball and love the kids.”

The Warriors’ pitching and defense paired with a fundamental approach at the plate makes them a tough out in the playoffs.

“The players buy into what we’re trying to do,” Kennedy said. “We’re going to run bases, we’re going to bunt guys over, hit and run. ... We gotta do the things necessary to manufacture some runs.”

Ranburne uses a similar style to find success. Like Westbrook, small ball is the name of the game.

The Bulldogs (20-6) likely will send Jared Edwards to the mound for Game 1 today. He’s one of the team’s top athletes and bats in three hole. Their best hitter, according to Kennedy, is catcher Clayton Young. Kennedy compared him to former Westbrook slugger and catcher Jacob Mayfield.

“They play a lot of the same baseball we do,” Kennedy said. “They’re pitching and defense. They’ve got guys in their lineup, if you’re not careful, they’ll beat you.”

Ranburne likely thinks the same thing.

The Warriors feature solid hitting throughout their lineup.

Alex Perkins and Jake Kilgo have been big in the first two spots, while Jordan McCartney provides power from the three hole. Jonathan Ford bats clean-up, while others like Reaves, Cazenave, Kyle Leonard, Tyler Pankey and Clay Templeton each have a knack for coming through with a big hit.

The winner of this series faces either Randolph County or Sheffield next week in the semis. Westbrook will host the semifinal with a win this week.