PELL CITY -- Pell City High School’s baseball team swept Minor in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs Friday.
The Panthers won the first game 11-1 and the second 12-4.
The Panthers will travel to take on the winner of Albertville/Cullman next Friday in the second round.
Cullman eliminated Pell City from the playoffs last season.
“We have been waiting on this since last year,” Pell City head coach Andrew Tarver said. “We made it to the second round last year. Our guys have worked extremely hard to get past the second round. Our guys are going to be really hungry and focused next week during practice to get ready for next Friday.”
In the second game, the Panthers jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of in the first inning thanks to Noah Hathorn, who delivered a two-run shot to give the Panthers a 2-0 advantage. Bailey Watkins’ RBI single increase the margin to 3-0. (In the playoffs, the host team bats first in Game 2.)
However, Pell City allowed Minor to cut into that lead in the bottom of the frame. Pitching was an issue for the Panthers for the first two innings. Mitchell Gossett struggled with control as he walked five of the nine batters he faced.
Gossett walked two runners with the bases loaded, and Minor pulled to within 3-2 going into the second.
Hathorn increased the Panthers’ lead to 4-2 in the second on a sacrifice fly.
In the bottom half of the frame, the Panthers continued to give Minor free passes. Gossett walked three batters to open the inning before being pulled.
Hunter Kendrick took over in relief for Pell City and walked two batters with the bases loaded to tie the game at 4-all.
In the fifth, Jackson Sweat put the Panthers back on top with a solo homer to left field to make it 5-4.
Later in the inning, Blake Miller walked with the bases loaded, which increased Pell City’s lead to 6-4.
That would be all the run support Kendrick would need. After struggling with his control when he first entered the game, the freshman hurler didn’t allow a hit or a run in four innings.
“Kendrick has done really well for us this year,” Tarver said. “He pitched a lot on JV (junior varsity) for us and he pitched an inning on Monday (against Spain Park). He has done really well for us this season, and we see big things in his future.”
In the sixth, Sweatt scored from third base on a pitch that bounced past the catcher.
Pell City added five runs in the seventh to increase its lead and clinch a berth into the second round.
“We have nine guys that can swing it in our lineup, not everyday, but today was the day that those guys were on,” Tarver said.
In the first game, Pell City scored 11 runs on 13 hits. Drew Wilson earned the win. He allowed one hit and one run in five innings. He also helped his own cause by hitting a homer to center field.
After two scoreless innings, Pell City scored four runs in the third, two runs in the fourth and five runs in the fifth.