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Briarwood Christian sweeps No. 4 Southside in quarterfinals


Braxton Light and Southside lost in Friday’s Class 5A state high school baseball playoff series. (Photo by Eric T. Wright | Gadsden Times | File)


 

The No. 4 Southside Panthers enjoyed a great run to the Class 5A quarterfinals, but Friday night they ran into a buzzsaw of stellar pitching and bad luck.

The Panthers (34-9) were swept out of the state playoffs by the Briarwood Christian Lions (19-10), dropping both games 3-1 and 5-2. This is the second year in a row Southside has been knocked out in the third round.

Southside coach Blake Bone said it’s never a fun time to lose in the playoffs and he will work now to console his players to help them get over the loss and move forward. Regardless of the loss, he said his players have bright futures and he’s proud of his team and the effort they gave all season.

“A lot of these guys have the opportunity to move forward and play in college next year,” Bone said. “Our younger guys are going to learn from this experience and hopefully, it won’t happen next year.”

Southside pitcher Brock Love went the distance in the first game, giving up three runs on six hits while striking out eight. During the second game, senior pitcher Drew Mullinax was forced to leave the mound after getting cramps throughout his entire lower body.

Mullinax came back into the game in the third inning, but did not retake the mound, instead playing outfield. He said his goal coming back was to give his best effort to help the team turn around their falling fortunes.

 

“I’m just going to give my teammates everything I’ve got,” Mullinax said. “It sucks I had to come off the mound, but that’s how it is, I guess.”

Mullinax hit a sacrifice fly in the first game to drive in Southside’s only run, and right fielder Braxton Light drove in both of Southside’s runs in the second game with a well-hit home run to left field.

Lions pitchers Ethan Simmons and Jake Bracewell both pitched complete games. Left fielder Wesley Hardin scored all three of Briarwood’s runs, including a two-run homer, in the first game, and center fielder Jake Morris went 2 for 3 in the second game, including an RBI.

In the first matchup, Southside threatened first, getting Light to third base with one out in the top of the fourth inning. However, Mullinax struck out in the ensuing at bat and after shortstop Hunter Clough reached on balls, Dantley Coker struck out again to end the threat.

Briarwood answered in the bottom of the inning, scoring on Hardin’s homer. 

He drove in Morris in the bottom of the sixth to finish the scoring for the game.

Mullinax started the second game and started hot, retiring the first three batters in order, fanning two. 

However, he gave up a single and a double to start the second inning and had to come out after that because of cramps.

Light came in and struggled for a bit to start, allowing both of those runners to score, before settling down. 

He pitched an inning and surrendered another run in the third before Tyler Burks replaced him on the rubber. Burks pitched like the Panthers’ playoff lives were on the line, striking out five of the first eight batters he faced after taking the mound.

Eventually, the Southside pitching staff began to struggle, giving up two more runs before the end of the game.

Bone said he hated to see Mullinax leave the game early like he did, especially as one of the senior leaders and top competitors on the team. 

He said the lack of timely hitting ended up being their undoing.

Briarwood coach Steve Renfroe said he couldn’t ask for better pitching than his team had Friday night. 

He said his team heard a lot about Southside coming into the series and made sure to tailor their approach for Love and Mullinax.

“Our main thing with our guys is we try to play baseball with our approach,” Renfroe said. “We identify what kind of arm they have, what they’re going to do and we have an approach for that type of pitcher.”

Mullinax said he plans to talk to the returning players both to comfort them in the loss and also to impart wisdom for them to take as they continue their high school careers.

“Enjoy everything because it comes to an end quick,” the senior said. “I love these guys and I wouldn’t change anything about this season.

“It’s been the best time of my life.”