Lions sweep Chelsea, advance to quarterfinals

Warm summer-like weather had fans looking for cool shade Friday afternoon at Jay D. Kynerd Field. However, the toasty air was well received by the capacity crowd for the second round of the AHSAA 5A baseball playoffs.

The Briarwood Lions (26-5) delighted their home crowd with a series sweeping win over the Chelsea Hornets (20-15), 12-5 in the first game and an 11-8, eight inning win in the second half of the doubleheader.

“I thought our guys responded under some adverse conditions tonight,” Lions head coach Lee Hall said in regards to the nightcap. “The guys just kept their heads in the game, and the confidence at the plate that they have had all year came through for us again tonight.”

Ben Bracewell (11-0) led the Lions on the hill in the opener, pitching four completed innings while only giving up two hits to the Hornets. A two-run home run by the Hornet’s Jake Campbell in the fourth inning tied the game at two apiece.

Though, it was the nine run fourth inning by the Lions that secured the game one win. It was an inning that greeted 14 Lion hitters at the plate with an accompanying grand slam home run by Jonathan Logan for the curtain call. Austin Lankford assisted with a solo homer to start the fourth.

Despite the loss in the first game, the Hornets positioned themselves for the game two win after scoring on three passed balls at the plate in the bottom of the first. Zac Hilliard later gave Chelsea the 8-7 lead in the bottom of the fifth when he connected for a two out, two-RBI double off Bracewell.

Shortly thereafter in the sixth, Paul McKelvey Jr, came out of his hitting slump at the right time and possibly saved the Lions season with an RBI double down the right field line to tie the game 8-8.

After Bracewell struck out the Hornet side in the bottom of the seventh, McKelvey struck again with a two run towering shot over the right center field wall to give the Lions a three run cushion. Two batters before, Bracewell gave the Lions the lead again.

With family and friends in attendance, McKelvey didn’t disappoint. All didn’t start well for the slugger at the plate, but he just kept plugging away. It paid off.

“Hitting is so mental, and I let it get to me after not hitting so well early on today,” McKelvey said of his thoughts at the plate. “As the game went on, I was able to turn the corner mentally and started to hit pitches where they were thrown.

“It was great feeling to hit that home run especially since it was my first home run in varsity baseball and, man, it couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Bracewell delivered for his ball club again Friday night just as he has done all year. Along with two home runs at the plate, the future Southeastern Conference pitcher struck out 16 batters in two games on the hill. He now has 123 strikeouts on the season , surpassing a previous single season record of 115. He also broke the 300 mark for his career.

“Knowing some of the guys that were here before me, I am really honored to hold that record now,” Bracewell said in becoming the single season strikeout leader. “I’m excited about it, but all the credit doesn’t all go to me. The credit goes to the guys around me that continue to do their job every game”

No team makes it to the playoffs by mistake and 20 win seasons aren’t just handed out. Despite the loss, the Hornets reached the second round for the first time since 2000.

“I’m proud of our guys’ effort tonight; they never quit,” Hornets head coach Jason Smith said. “We kept battling back and finding ways to get back in the game. We had a chance to win the game there at the end. We just never could come up with that big hit in some spots that would have put us in a better position.”

Blake Yance threw five complete innings in game two for the Hornets, striking out 11, and had two RBIs.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly said that Chelsea had never made the second round of the baseball playoffs. The Hornets last appeared in the second round in 2000. This is the first time to return to the second round since Chelsea returned to Class 5A in 2007 after moving down to Class 4A in 2002.