Lions unbeaten in Area 8

Published 10:55 pm Friday, March 27, 2009

He has been nearly unhittable numerous times in his career and has been on the edge of the area championship the past two years. While Briarwood Christian ace pitcher Ben Bracewell couldn’t control the bloop single in shallow left field that broke up his no-hitter Friday, he does hope to control his team’s fate in Class 5A, Area 8 over the next two weeks.

“We want to sweep the whole thing. We don’t want to lose a single game, tiebreaker or anything,” Bracewell said.

So far, he has done just that, posting a 3-0 record against area foes, including a 10-0 win Friday over Chelsea.

In the past two games, Bracewell struck out 23 batters through 13 innings, retiring 27 straight in five innings against Shelby County on Tuesday and the first four against Chelsea on Friday.

“His outings against Shelby County and tonight are the Ben Bracewell we thought we’d see throw this year,” Briarwood head coach Lee Hall said. “Before the Shelby County game and the Chelsea game, he’s pitched well, but he hasn’t been 100 percent.”

Bracewell missed the first two and a half weeks of the season with an ankle injury, but believes he is now in full stride.

Now, he hopes to close out the area title Thursday when he takes the mound at home against Shelby County, if the Lions can pick up a sweep of John Carroll on Monday.

The senior has also adjusted with his bat since his ankle has healed, being able to reverse the field, as he showed in the third inning Friday.

“Everybody figured out that I like hitting fast balls, and I like pulling them,” Bracewell said. “Every team is throwing me the same way, throwing junk on the outside of the plate, and I’ve just learned to start hitting it that way.”

Blake Woo fanned Bracewell in the first inning, and tried to fool him again in the third with an outside change up, but Bracewell pushed it out of the ballpark for a three-run home run to give the Lions a 4-0 lead.

“I was actually expecting a fastball and try to pull it,” Bracewell laughed. “It was probably an ugly swing. It felt pretty ugly.”

On the mound, he retired the first two Chelsea batters with ground balls Friday, then struck out four straight. Leading off the third inning, Hornets’ catcher Ben Craft hit a shot to left that might have changed the outcome of the game, but he busted his bat on the swing, hitting the ball dead, as it was caught on the warning track for the out. Bracewell went on the strikeout four of the next five batters to remain perfect through four innings.

He missed his mark in the fifth, hitting Jake Campbell on the leg to break up the perfect game opportunity, but recovered with two more Ks. Craft had has shot at breaking up the no-no again, and this time succeeded with a bloop single inside the leftfield line.

Bracewell said he tweaked his ankle with a bad step off the mound in the fifth, as he went on to walk two batters in the sixth before striking out the final two outs.

The Lions’ first run of the game on an RBI ground out by Austin Lankford, who also walked in a run in the sixth to end the game via the 10-run rule.

Blake Woo took the loss for Chelsea, after allowing four runs, three earned, off six hits through five innings of work. Josh Harkins relieved Woo in the sixth, allowing six more runs on a mixture of walks, wild pitches and a couple of hits.

Chelsea head coach Jason Smith said he knows Bracewell is going to give a good game every time out, he just hopes his team can cut down on the number of strikeouts next time they face each other.

“I think what probably hurts the most is that we didn’t give Briarwood our best effort, our best performance,” he said.

If Chelsea and Briarwood finish one and two in the area and both advance past the first round of the playoffs, they will then meet again in the second round.

“There’s a very good possibility that the two teams in our area match up again in the second,” Smith said. “After you get past (Bracewell), then you see what you can do. Anytime he’s on the mound they have a chance to beat anybody.”

Hall said he feels like he has a chance when the playoffs arrive with junior David Woods (4-0) and Tanner Cunningham (2-0) behind Bracewell in the rotation.

Chelsea travels to Shelby County on Monday, while Briarwood hosts John Carroll. Chelsea will close the week Thursday with a double header against John Carroll, while Shelby County will come to Briarwood.