State champs – Panthers win first 6A baseball title

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Stubborn rains and the team’s first postseason loss weren’t enough to damper Pelham High School’s title hopes last Thursday as the Panthers clawed back to take the series at Montgomery’s Paterson Field.

After knocking out Grissom, Tuscaloosa County, Hueytown and Oak Mountain, Pelham downed the Prattville Lions in three games, earning its first 6A baseball state championship.

The Panthers (31-10) had not lost a game during the previous two rounds but found out quickly the Lions were not going down without a fight.

Prattville, which won 40 games during the regular season and finished the season with a 47-10 record, learned to fight during the playoffs, losing game two before coming back to win game three in both the quarter and semifinals.

In game one, Pelham found out early the Lions had shown up not only to play but to win.

With a 2-0 count, Prattville’s Lee Wallace homered to center field off Pelham’s Clinton Ancelot.

The early 1-0 Prattville lead would be all the scoring until Pelham answered in the top of the sixth inning with a Scott Dickey double which scored Shaun Sheehan, who also had doubled, tying the game at 1-1.

Sheehan wasn’t through.

After a single in the top of the seventh, he went on to score the Panthers third run of the inning.

The Lions could only manage 1 run in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Panthers a 4-2 victory and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.

Shaun Sheehan and Dickey went a combined 9-for-17 during the series, scoring five of Pelham’s 15 runs during the three games.

The Lions were plagued by sloppy play throughout the series.

In the first and second games, the Lions committed three errors, totaling eight for the series.

Game two started off on that sloppy note. Two first-inning errors by Prattville shortstop Brett Hall gave the Panthers an early 3-0 lead.

The Lions answered one of those runs in the top of the fourth when Lee Wallace hit his second home run of the series, closing the lead to 3-1.

In the fifth inning, two hits and a Pelham error proved to be what the Lions needed as they took a 4-3 lead after scoring 3 runs.

Pelham answered in the bottom of the fifth when second baseman Bert Smith, who went 3-for-4 in game two, scored off a Shaun Sheehan single.

With the score tied 4-4 in the top of the seventh, the Lions refused to give up.

In the seventh, three Prattville batters reached base after pushing the count to two strikes.

Two errors, two hits and 4 runs later, Prattville owned an 8-4 lead.

Not for long, though.

Smith and Shaun Sheehan once again started the Pelham rally with singles. After pounding out three hits, the Panthers were only able to score 3 runs, stranding one runner on third, and losing game two, 8-7.

Pelham head coach Mike O’Berry said when he spoke to his team following game two, there was no sense of urgency.

&uot;I told them if we go out, remember what our assignments are and make routine plays, we’re going to be fine,&uot; O’Berry said.

Fine is just how things ended for the Panthers.

After nearly a two-hour rain delay halted game three in the third inning, Pelham was able to hold on to a 5-2 lead to win the 6A state championship in game three by a score of 6-2.

Before the delay, Pelham scored 3 runs in the bottom of the third, scoring 2 more runs after coming back from the delay.

Game-three winning pitcher Brandon Sheehan, the younger of the Sheehan brothers, pitched for the freshman Panther baseball team the majority of the season and last pitched for the varsity in a 4-3 loss to John Carroll over spring break.

O’Berry said he knew his team would come out ready to play the third game, even after having to deal with the close loss in game two and the rain delay.

&uot;For a lot of teams, when you go out, kick it around, don’t make plays, give up 4 runs and you’re down four in the last inning, most of us are going to pack it in,&uot; O’Berry said. &uot;This group isn’t going to pack it in.&uot;

After reaching the playoffs the past three seasons, the Panthers got within sight of the championship but never quite reached that goal.

Last year, the Panthers lost to eventual state champions Clay-Chalkville and the year before, to Daphne.

Dickey, who played in those two disappointing losses, said those years helped make this club what it is today.

&uot;Two years ago doesn’t matter any more; we won our state championship,&uot; Dickey said.

&uot;That year set the foundation for success for this team and the expectation to win.&uot;

After the game, the Panthers paraded a banner around the field, honoring their first-ever baseball state championship and their lost teammate, Brandon Smith.

Smith, who died in 2002, would have been a senior this year.

&uot;(The senior class) lost their best buddy as a sophomore,&uot; O’Berry said fighting back tears.

&uot;They were determined to win one for (Smith).&uot;

Dickey, a senior, agreed.

&uot;He’s always on our minds,&uot; Dickey said, &uot;every game we have played since our sophomore year.&uot;

O’Berry said, through tragedy, his team learned to become one unit with one heartbeat.

&uot;These guys have got a lot of heart and there is no doubt this team won on chemistry and determination,&uot; O’Berry said