Pinson Valley eliminates Southside in 5A quarters


The season came to an end for Brock Love and the Panthers on Saturday. (Photo by Dave Hyatt | Gadsden Times | File)


PINSON — The final out of Saturday’s deciding high school baseball state playoff quarterfinal series game between Class 5A, No. 5 Southside and No. 10 Pinson Valley proved that baseball is, in fact, a game of inches.

With Drew Mullinax on third, two outs and the Panthers trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh inning, Blake Devine lined a shot up the middle. Indians shortstop Josh Hines stretched out and dived for the ball, and when he hit the ground, the ball was securely in his glove. The catch gave Pinson Valley the win and a berth in the state semifinals.

Southside coach Blake Bone gave credit to Devine and Hines on the play.

“Blake did all he could,” Bone said. “He hit the ball hard, and the kid made a play. You hope it drops down, or he drops it, but sometimes it’s not meant to be.”

The Panthers led 3-1 going into the top of the sixth, but Pinson Valley rallied with one run in the sixth and three in the seventh to go ahead for good.

The series, which saw the teams split the first two games Friday, was a rematch of last year’s quarterfinals, which Southside swept.

“It’s tough any time you lose,” Bone said. “In a game of this magnitude, it hurts, but I’m definitely proud of my guys. They played hard, they fought, they did what they had to do to give themselves a chance to win. I hate that it turned out this way.”

Jesse Fry went 51⁄3 innings for Southside (29-13), striking out six and walking just one. He was in line for the win when he was relieved by Patrick Lister.

“You couldn’t ask for anything more from a senior,” Bone said. “He don’t get the recognition that some pitchers get, but you throw him out there and get an outing like that, you can’t ask for anything more out of a kid. I thought he did an outstanding job.”

The Panthers jumped out quickly in the first inning. Mullinax, who went 2 for 4, doubled to lead off and then went to third on a passed ball. Andrew Fuhrman bunted, and Mullinax scored on a fielding error by first baseman Tyler Evans.

The Indians (33-11) countered in the top of the second. Jarod McCurdy singled to bring in Evans and tie the game at 1.

In the third inning, Southside got its final two runs. Fuhrman struck out but reached first on a wild pitch by Auburn signee Bailey Chesser. Hunter Clough sacrificed him to second, before Devine singled him home to give the Panthers a 2-1 edge. A single and a walk loaded the bases, and an infield single by Braxton Light pushed the advantage to 3-1.

After the third inning, Chesser gave up just one hit. He fanned nine batters, including five in a six-hitter stretch in the fourth and fifth innings.

“I think early, he was erratic,” Bone said of Chesser. “We got some guys on and were able to create and use our small-ball. Later on, he got his breaking ball working better. We couldn’t generate a whole lot of offense. He did a good job.”

The Indians got two runners on in the sixth against Fry, which brought in Lister. He hit two of the first three batters he faced to force in a run and make it 3-2.

Lister opened the top of the seventh by hitting Joseph Downing. Bone then went to Alex Pondick, who hit Scott Falkinburg. Gracen Armstrong singled to right to bring in Downing and tie the game at 3. Hines then singled for what would end up being the game-winning hit, also to right field.

Mullinax opened the bottom of the inning with a single. Fuhrman’s sacrifice bunt got him to second. A wild pitch by Chesser moved him to third base. From there, Chesser struck out Clough before Hines’ diving grab ended it.

“This (group of seniors) was my first group coming through here,” Bone said. “You spend more time with these kids than you do your own family. You think of them like your kids. I’m very demanding and they don’t complain and they don’t lose focus. It’s a hard group to lose. I appreciate everything they’ve done for me.”