Southside splits 5A series with Pinson Valley


Southside’s Andrew Fuhrman tags out Pinson Valley’s Gracen Armstrong during Game 1 of Friday’s Class 5A quarterfinal high school state baseball playoff series in Pinson. (Photo by Dave Hyatt | Gadsden Times)


PINSON — Who would expect anything less?

The fifth-ranked Southside Panthers and No. 10 Pinson Valley will need another game to decide who will advance out of the quarterfinals of the Class 5A state high school baseball playoffs. The teams split a doubleheader Friday with Pinson Valley winning the opener 4-0 and the Panthers holding on for a 1-0 victory in the nightcap.

The deciding Game 3 will start at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Friday’s games were all about pitching — as expected. Southside’s Andrew Fuhrman turned in a gutsy performance in Game 2 to keep the Panthers’ season alive, working himself in and out of trouble all game.

“It seemed like every inning they had somebody on base,” said Southside (29-12) coach Blake Bone, who watched as the Indians (31-12) put leadoff runners on base in five of the seven innings of the nightcap. “The majority of time, you’re not going to get a shutout like that.

“Andrew is a senior; he’s been in this situation before. Maybe he didn’t have his best stuff, but he competed throughout the game and gave us an opportunity to win.”

Fuhrman made an RBI single by Hunter Clough in the third inning hold up throughout the game. Clough’s hit scored Drew Mullinax, who had five hits on the day.

Fuhrman got plenty of help from his defense, too, including two big double plays to keep the Indians off the scoreboard.

The first came in the third inning, when Pinson Valley loaded the bases with no outs. Gracen Armstrong stepped to the plate and blistered a line drive to shortstop Brock Love, who caught it and flipped to Pylant at second for the double play. Fuhrman then struck out Josh Hines to end the inning.

The second double play came on what Bone described as a “game-changer.” With a runner on first and no outs in the fifth, Pinson Valley’s Scott Falkinburg lined a shot to right-center field in what looked to be a gapper. But Braxton Light streaked from right field and stretched out in a dive to make the catch. The runner on first, Baker Hodge, had sold out and was on his way to third when Light made the catch, making it an easy double play.

“I think if that ball gets down, it at least ties the game,” Bone said. “It’s a game-changer and one of those plays you gotta make in a tough situation. You let them get that and momentum goes their way, things can change quick in this game.”

Fuhrman allowed six hits and struck out eight while stranding six on base.

“He bears down when he has to and did a good job of minimizing (Pinson Valley’s) possibilities,” Bone said.

Pinson Valley sidearmer Wyatt Burns also had to work out of trouble several times to limit Southside’s offense. He allowed nine hits and struck out four while stranding eight Southside runners.

“He pitched great,” Pinson Valley coach Shane Chappell said. “We just didn’t do enough offensively as a team to take advantage the opportunities we got.”

In the opener, though, it was the Indians taking advantage of Southside miscues.

The Panthers had two errors in the second inning and Pinson Valley got a two-RBI single from Armstrong for all the runs they would need to get the win.

Tyler Evans scored on an errant pickoff throw by pitcher Alex Pondick and, with the bases loaded, Falkinburg walked to force home Hodge. Hodge had reached first on an error three batters earlier, which would have been the inning’s third out.

Armstrong provided the big blow, lacing a two-RBI single to score Jordan Bryant and Joseph Dunning.

“I think we might still be playing Game 1 if things like that don’t happen in that inning,” Bone said.

Indians pitcher Colby Wingard kept Southside batters off balance for much of the game, which was played under a heavy downpour at times. He allowed six hits and struck out four in the complete-game shutout.

“Overall, he pitches on guts,” Chappell said of Wingard. “He’s done it all year for us. He pounds the strike zone and gets after guys.”

Pondick suffered the loss after allowing just four hits. He struck out six and did not allow a Pinson Valley runner past second base after the second inning.

“We gave up four runs on four hits,” Bone said. “You can’t do that. That’s not going to win any game at any level, especially in this type of big playoff game.”

At the plate, Mullinax went 3 for 4. Clough, Cody Pylant and Matt West each added a hit for the Panthers.

Evans went 2 for 2 for Pinson Valley.

Today’s game will mean a trip to the semifinal round against either Hartselle or Homewood.

Bone still has experienced pitchers in seniors Jesse Fry and Patrick Lister to send to the mound to get the crucial win.

“We got guys that’s been there and pitched in big games, pitched in Game 3s before,” Bone said. “We feel good about where we are.”

Chappell is expecting a big challenge.

“Southside’s a good club,” he said. “They’re going to battle, they’re going to fight and they’re not going to strike out a whole lot. Hopefully, we’ll kind of regroup and come back (today) and it will be another good ball game.”