Bucs end Panthers’ season
Pelham’s season is over. After an 11-4 loss at Hoover Thursday, the Panthers will not be playoff bound, despite a No. 22 ranking in the nation by Baseball America.
The story is the same every year in Class 6A, Area 10, two teams advance, while two to three equally as good teams stay home. This year, Pelham (24-6, 4-4) is staying home with Spain Park and Thompson, while Hoover and Oak Mountain go to the playoffs.
A win for the Panthers Thursday would have tied them for first with Hoover, but the loss puts them in a tie for second, which gives Oak Mountain the tie breaker after the Eagles swept the Panthers last week.
Pelham head coach Jeff Mauldin doesn’t doubt that defending state champion Hoover and Oak Mountain deserve to be in the playoff field of 32. But he does have an issue with the structure of the selection process.
“The other 30 teams are not more deserving than us. We only lost four games this year in this state, and it happened to be four games in our area,” Mauldin said. “We finished tied for second and we’re going to lose a tiebreaker based off of what a book says by the state of Alabama.”
Hoover head coach Rick Davis stood in front of his dugout Thursday and watched as Mauldin gave his guys the end of the year speech.
“I feel awful for them, because I know what it feels like,” said Davis, who was in the same situation in 2007, ranked in the Top 5 and staying home.
“The bottom line is, I think kids work too hard these days playing baseball to not get the opportunity to ever be in the playoffs,” Davis said. “Any team in our area could run the table (at state). It just depends on who’s hot at the time and who catches the breaks.”
Last year, it was Hoover catching the breaks. This year, many thought it would be Pelham, who carried a 20-2 record and No. 1 6A ranking into last week without a single loss in the state of Alabama. Such accomplishments made it hard for Mauldin to talk to his players and seniors after the game.
“The hand that they’ve been dealt, not just Pelham High School but Spain Park and Thompson and Hoover and Oak Mountain – all five teams in our area, the hand they’ve been dealt, it’s unfair,” Maudlin said. “The state says it’s a fair thing, but when you’ve got this area and one area in the north with five teams in it and two areas in the south with only three teams in it, we’ve got to beat three people to make the playoffs and those two areas in the south only have to beat one team. They can say it’s fair, but you do the math.”
Mauldin and Davis both know that the game has to be won on the field in order to advance, and Pelham was unable to win this week, hindered by four errors in the last two innings Thursday, which helped result in a five-run fifth inning for Hoover and the 11-4 final.
Pelham and Hoover started the game tied, 1-1, but the Bucs put up a three-spot in the third to take a 4-1 lead and steadily grew it to 6-1 after five innings.
Panther third baseman Austin Dubberly, 2-for-3 in the game, led off the top of the sixth with a double and was followed with a double by Andrew Bishop to put runners on second and third with no outs. Senior catcher Ryan Roberts stepped to the plate and battled to stay alive, fouling off pitch after pitch before placing one over the centerfield fence for a 3-run blast. The homer cut the lead, 6-4.
“I knew we had a chance to come back. We’ve done that all year,” Roberts said. When I got in the box I drew a cross in the dirt like I always do, thinking I would hit with God. I knew he had me in his hands, and if it was his will for me to get a hit then I would. I just did what I always do and swung the bat, and it came through.”
Mauldin said such a rally late in a game against the defending state champion is proof Pelham should be playing next week.
“It shows that we belong in the elite teams in this state. We’re down 6-1 to the defending state champions and they have their horses on the mound, and we rally to cut it to two,” he said.
Tripp Martin and Alvin Hines followed to get on base, but the Panthers left them stranded, thus ending Pelham’s major offensive production for the night. Bishop and Roberts were both 3-for-4 in the game, with Bishop driving in Dubberly for the run in the first inning.
Sam Frost’s three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth canceled out Roberts’ shot, as Hoover scored five in the inning. Frost was 3-for-4 with four RBIs in the game, while Josh Magee was also 3-for-4 with two RBIs for the Bucs. John Propst also drove in a run.
Tripp Martin started the game on the mound for Pelham, as Trae Santos continues to recover from a fracture in his throwing arm. Santos said it was hard to watch from the dugout and even harder now that they are not making the playoffs, since he was cleared this week to play in the playoffs.
“It hurt a lot (not being out there), but I had all the confidence in the world in my team that they would get it done, and that when I came back things were going to fall back into place and we’d keep rolling,” Santos said.
Martin lasted four innings, allowing nine hits and five runs, four unearned. Hunter Soleyamni gave up the other six Hoover runs, three of which were earned, in one and one-third innings. Keith Dickey relieved Soleyamni and retired two of the three batters he faced with one reaching base on an error.
Pelham will now prepare for the offseason and Santos, Bishop and other juniors will prepare for another strong run to get out of Area 10 and reach Montgomery next year.
“The two teams that are going to come out of this area, unless the state makes some changes, are legit state contenders,” Mauldin said of this season and next.
The main thing Pelham will have to work on is filling the holes of its seniors. Mauldin said Thursday that Michael Bishop will shift over from left field to take over centerfield for Hines, a senior, which will create competition for a spot in left. Third base and catcher, Dubberly and Roberts’ positions, will also put a big hole in the defense to fill, Mauldin said.
Hoover (27-8, 6-2) will host Tuscaloosa County in the first round of the playoffs April 17. Oak Mountain will travel to Hillcrest April 17, but will first host Hillcrest April 10 for a regular season game.