Briarwood advances with strong pitching

After Briarwood eighth-grader Tanner Cunningham learned that he’d get the start in the first playoff game against Sylacauga, he received a message. “Get the first one, I’ve got the second,” read the text from senior ace Ben Bracewell.

The two did just that on Friday, as Cunningham tossed a complete game to down the Aggies, 5-1, followed by a 19-strikeout performance by Bracewell to blank Sylacauga, 3-0.

“It was kind of boring,” Cunningham said of watching Bracewell’s career performance. “It was good for him. He’s having a great senior year. You couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Bracewell can.

After the game, while Bracewell was stoked about fanning 13 straight to start the nightcap, he couldn’t quit talking about Cunningham’s performance. The two have been friends for years, and so have their families since Cunningham’s father Bill befriended Bracewell’s father Al through Campus Outreach while in college at Troy.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how proud I am of him today,” the senior said. “One of his big things is to get over the fact that he’s so young, and it’s one of those things that we’ve been trying to get him to realize that not only can he compete with high school teams, but he can dominate them.”

Cunningham allowed a run in the first inning and then used a combination of ground balls, pop flies and four strikeouts to retire the rest of the Aggies.

“It’s not too much pressure when you know all you have to do is throw a strike. We have a great defense. And normally we’re a real strong hitting team,” Cunningham said.

The hitting wasn’t as strong Friday for the Lions, but it was enough, as Crew hit his first home run of the season to break a 1-1 tie in game one and Evan Simmons hit a solo shot to start the scoring in game two.

Crew was 3-for-5 in the series with two RBIs, while Paul McKelvey was 4-for-7 with two RBIs and Johnathan Logan was 2-for-3 with an RBI in the second game. McKelvey helped give Cunningham some breathing room in game one with a two-RBI double to right in the third to make the lead, 4-1. Austin Lankford and Logan Crook each had RBIs in the first game.

Bracewell was one strikeout away from the school record, 20, set last season by Adam Russell. He now has 104 for the season, 11 shy of the school record for a season. He also retook the lead in his friendly competition with Briarwood softball ace Madeline Lamon, who has 100 through Thursday.

Briarwood (24-5) also tied a 2005 record for most wins a season and will look to break it Friday when Area 8 runner-up Chelsea comes to town for a second round best-of-three series.