NICK JOHNSTON: Panthers' heart shows in run to state finals
Sat. May 12, 2012 at 8:11 p.m. | By Nick Johnston Sports Writer
The Southside baseball team listens to the National Anthem prior to Friday's semifinal series against Hartselle. (Photo by Dave Hyatt | Gadsden Times)
SOUTHSIDE — What they lack in power, they make up with heart. There are no stars for the Southside Panther baseball team, only players who know and excel in their roles. The coaching is phenomenal, getting every last bit of talent out of a roster that includes just three seniors and not being afraid to be aggressive.
The terms “blue collar” and “scrappy” have been used to describe them all season, and that was on display for all of Southside and the surrounding area to see Friday night when the Panthers swept No. 6 Hartselle to gain a spot in the Class 5A state championship series.
Thousands came through the gate at Danny League Field to take in the state semifinal series. Extra bleachers were brought in to accommodate the overflowing crowd, and a deck was built in left field for an estimated 200 Southside students who treated it as the biggest athletic event in school history.
And the Panthers didn’t disappoint on the field.
Southside took the opener 4-2 and completed the sweep with a 6-2 victory in the nightcap. The celebration was wild, as after the final out of game two the Panthers sprinted to left field and leapt over the wall into the student section.
At that point, what had happened two years ago was just a distant memory.
Panther coach Blake Bone had All-State caliber players all over the field in 2010, many of which have gone on to star in college. The pitching was solid, the batting even better, and they appeared to have the swagger of a state champion. But none of that mattered when it came time to play Hartselle in the semifinals, as the Tigers shocked then No. 2 Southside to advance to Montgomery.
Payback on Friday night in Southside was oh so sweet.
To be fair, none of the players on this season’s team had regular roles for the Panthers in 2010. But make no mistake: Bone, who had lost two other times to Hartselle in the playoffs during his career with the Panthers, was relieved.
“This feels really good,” he said of making it to the state championship, “and it feels great that it was against Hartselle.”
Southside’s lone state baseball championship came in 2001, and since that time, Cullman and Hartselle have dominated the north part of the state. Bone has formed a relationship with both schools’ coaches, Cullman’s Brent Patterson and Hartselle’s William Booth.
“These guys are good friends of mine and we love playing each other because it’s just good baseball all the way through,” Bone said. “I have so much respect for coach Booth and the things he’s done. But it does feel good to be on the other side for once and kind of get that monkey off the back.”
A big challenge awaits the Panthers in Montgomery. They will be facing two-time defending state champ and No. 3 Spanish Fort in a best-of-three series beginning at 4 p.m. Friday at Patterson Field. The series will then shift to Riverwalk Stadium on Saturday.
And the only real concern now is what the Panthers’ mindset will be later this week in Montgomery. All the focus has been on making it to the championship series, and coming off the emotional sweep of Hartselle there could be a letdown.
It happens in every sport on every level, but Southside pitcher Alex Pondick isn’t too worried about it.
“It’s a great feeling hearing people say, ‘You’re going to Montgomery,’” Pondick said. “I just know that we’ll play our hearts out. I know our defense will be there and I know our offense will be there. I know everybody will come through.”
Times Sports Writer Nick Johnston can be reached at email@example.com.