Southside beats Arab 3-1 to win 5A playoff series


Southside pitcher Tyler Burks delivers a pitch against Arab during Saturday’s deciding game of the Class 5A, best-of-three state high school baseball playoff series in Southside. (Photo by Dave Hyatt | Gadsden Times)


 

SOUTHSIDE — The Southside Panthers handled Saturday’s high-pressure state high school baseball playoff game against Arab with the ease of a veteran ballclub.

That type response came as no surprise for coach Blake Bone. Rather, it made him proud. 

Class 5A, No. 4 Southside earned a 3-1 victory over Arab in the deciding game of its best-of-three, second-round series. The Panthers forced Game 3 with a 7-0 win in Friday’s nightcap of a doubleheader, after the Knights took the opener 7-6.

Bone lauded the Panthers for remaining composed in such a pressure-cooker situation, but dished a large portion of his praise to a player who hadn’t been part of that type atmosphere as much as some of his teammates.

“We got a great start from Tyler Burks,” Bone said of his winning pitcher, who had yet to start a game this postseason. “He came out and gave us a stellar performance on the mound and a chance to win.”

Burks pitched six shutout innings while getting just enough offensive help to lead the Panthers to the third round of the playoffs for the second straight season.

Southside (34-8) travels to Briarwood Christian on Friday for the right to advance to the state semifinals.

Burks understood the pressure of pitching in an elimination game — it just didn’t affect him.

“The pressure is always on in Game 3,” the junior said. “For the seniors, it could be their last day, so we have to play with intensity.”

The Panthers, who had six hits, didn’t have their best day with the bats, but with Burks pitching so well, they didn’t have to.

“We had some opportunities to score but we didn’t, but we scored enough to win,” Bone said, noting the veteran presence on the team impacted such a tight game.

 

“We have an older group, and they’ve been in this atmosphere and they know what it’s about,” Bone said. “They don’t let the hype get to them. They’re able to control their nerves and I think that definitely helps up.”

Drew Mullinax drove in the first run of the game on an RBI single in the bottom of the first inning.

The Knights (25-15) threatened in the third inning. With two outs, A.J. Crawford drew a walk, Sean Berry singled and Ridge Wilson also walked to load the bases. However, Burks induced a pop out to first baseman Kyle Steward from Colin Shipp to escape unscathed.

The Panthers put runners on second and third with two out in the bottom of the third but came up empty.

Another run was added to the lead in the fourth inning when Tanner Snow singled with one out. He went to second base on a ground out and reached third on a wild pitch. The throw from catcher Lucas Smith bounced off the glove of third baseman Berry on the play, allowing Snow to score and give Southside a 2-0 advantage.

Trace Pardue led off the fifth inning with a single, but catcher Matt West picked him off first base. 

Burks got the next two outs to maintain Southside’s two-run lead.

In the bottom of the sixth, Dantley Coker opened for the Panthers by reaching on an error. He then stole second. After Arab pitcher Ryan Davis got the next two outs, Steward popped up to shortstop Nate Law, who dropped it. The error allowed Coker to score the final Southside run.

Burks exited for Brock Love in the top of the seventh, and said leaving the mound was the right call.

“At the beginning of the game, I was really on,” Burks said. “Toward the end, I was around 80 pitches (thrown) and starting to feel some fatigue.”

Love allowed a single to Davis, hit Pardue with a pitch and walked Crawford to load the bases with no outs in what was the biggest threat the Knights put together all day. Hunter Clough relieved Love, and Berry’s sacrifice fly got Arab on the board. Wilson hit into a fielder’s choice to leave runners on first and third with two outs. 

Clough then got Shipp to ground out to Coker at third to end the game and secure the Panthers’ spot in the state quarterfinals.