No. 5 Southside travels to No. 10 Pinson Valley


Southside’s Hunter Clough and the Panthers travel to play Pinson Valley today. (Photo by Nick Johnston | Gadsden Times | File)


Southside High School baseball coach Blake Bone knows what his Panthers can do when backed against a wall.

Last weekend against Etowah, he saw what they’re made of — both physically and mentally.

“Our guys definitely showed up in both phases,” Bone said of the Panthers clawing their way back into the best-of-three state playoff series.

After losing the opening game, the fifth-ranked Panthers rallied for two wins against the Blue Devils and advanced to the quarterfinals. Their next test? The Pinson Valley Indians.

Southside travels to No. 10 Pinson Valley today for a doubleheader in what is a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal matchup. First pitch is set for 5 p.m. and, if the teams split, they will play a deciding Game 3 at 2 p.m. Saturday for a trip to the Class 5A semifinals.

The Panthers (28-11) had to claw their way through the second round, losing 4-3 in the opener to Etowah before fighting back for 7-1 and 6-1 wins at Danny League Field.

“It’s that not-fail attitude, that’s what you like to see out of your guys,” Bone said. “It’s always good to see them handle adversity, see them be resilient and have the ability to bounce back and do what it took to move on.”

Things figure to get even tougher today against Pinson Valley (30-11). For the Indians, it’s all about pitching. How much so? Auburn signee Bailey Chesser didn’t even pitch in the Indians’ sweep of Mortimer Jordan last week.

During that series, Colby Wingard — who is undefeated this season with a sub-2.00 ERA — and Wyatt Burns — a sidearmer who is 4-1 with a 1.49 ERA — kept Mortimer Jordan bats silent most of the night.

The Indians also have Zac Ray and Brad Eckmyre to send to the mound in a pinch.

Southside has numerous arms to rely on, too, like Alex Pondick, Jesse Fry, Andrew Fuhrman, Patrick Lister and Brock Love.

“I think we’re very similar clubs,” Bone said. “We both lean on our pitching. Not only do they have depth, but they have quality guys that they can run out there in every game.

“The last time we played them was the same situation.”

In last year’s opener of the quarterfinals, Southside defeated Pinson Valley 7-6 in an 11-inning thriller. Pondick pitched 10 innings before giving way to Fuhrman in the bottom of the 11th after Blake Devine hit the go-ahead RBI double in the top of the frame.

“I felt like whoever won that game was probably going to win the series, because it was draining physically and mentally,” Bone said. “Whoever lost was going to have a hard time recovering for Game 2.”

Pinson Valley certainly had a hard time in the nightcap, as Southside rolled to a 9-4 win.

The Indians will see Pondick again this year in the series opener, but Bone wasn’t giving anything away as to who will be taking the mound for Game 2.

Fry, a lefty, has started both Game 2s in the opening rounds and won both times.

“He’s a senior,” Bone said. “One of those guys who’s cool and calm. If he’s keeping the ball down, he’s a hard pitcher to hit.”

Last season in the playoffs, Fuhrman was the go-to guy in Game 2. He’s pitched four quality innings this postseason and, after recovering from a sickness last week, appears plenty-rested for the Indians.

“As far as moving forward, who knows what will happen?” Bone said. “But I’m not afraid to lean on any of those guys at any time.”

Should the series go to a deciding Game 3, the odds-on favorite to start is Patrick Lister. The senior submariner pitched five shutout innings in Saturday’s win over Etowah.

“We got faith in Patrick. Just his mentality is one that he refuses to lose,” Bone said. “He wanted the ball (against Etowah), and when he wants the ball, it’s hard not to hand it over to him.”

The winner of this series will face either Hartselle or Homewood in the semifinals.