Bracewell pitches Briarwood past Hartselle

Published 11:44 pm Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Two fastballs sealed Briarwood’s 2-1 victory over Hartselle (48-9) Wednesday in Game 1 of the best-of-three Class 5A state championship series, but what Briarwood ace Ben Bracewell needed the most in the bottom of the seventh at Paterson Field was the Sharpe printed underside of his baseball cap.

As Bracewell faced a 3-1 count on Hartselle’s leading hitter Luke Bole, he turned toward the outfield grass, removed his cap and read the inside of his bill, “Do not fear, I will help you.” The words are the theme of Bracewell’s favorite Bible passage, Isaiah 41:10-13.

The verse has been his life verse since he received it on a card before playing in the Class 5A football championship in 2007, and he keeps it in front of him at all times.

After putting his cap back on his head, Bracewell turned and fired a fastball down the middle past a swinging Bole. He fired back with one more fastball for a called third strike to end the game and snap Hartselle’s 14-game win streak.

“By the time I had three balls on him, I just gave it up and said, ‘God, if you want me to throw a strike, then it’s going to happen,’” Bracewell said. “I just stood up there and threw the ball.”

The strikeout was impressive not only because Bracewell was wearing down after 120 pitches, but also because Bole leads the state with 19 home runs.

“I was probably too much aware of his 19 home runs at that point,” Bracewell said of his future Mississippi State University teammate. “The whole night, I had been throwing fastballs to him, and when I could get it in the strike zone, he wasn’t hitting it.”

Unlike other nights, Bracewell was out of gas by the fourth inning, changing his pitch selection from about 70 percent fastballs, 30 percent off speed pitches to half-and-half. Even though his tank was low, he wasn’t leaving the game.

“I knew it was going to be hard, and it was going to hurt, and that I was probably going to be all over the place, but in my head, I was not not going to finish out my last game on the mound,” he said.

A pair of runs by fellow senior Evan Simmons helped Bracewell, giving him a 2-0 lead to work with after the fourth.

Simmons beat out a bunt with one out in the first inning and advanced to second on a bad throw on the play. After stealing third, he was in position to score on a ground out by Bracewell. Simmons came through again in the fourth, reaching base after being hit by a pitch and moving around the bases. Stealing third base again, Simmons was able to score on an arrant throw by Hartselle catcher Michael Hasse.

Simmons’ bunt single was the only hit conceded by Bole (11-4), who tossed a complete game and struck out seven. He was 1-for-1 at the plate and hit by two pitches, breaking Briarwood’s single season hit by pitch record with a total of 14.

“We came into the ballgame knowing that we would do little things against Luke. We knew our short game was going to be big. We were going to have to get some balls down and hope they make some mistakes,” Briarwood head coach Lee Hall said.

Briarwood conceded a run in the bottom of the seventh on a sacrifice fly to right field for the first out of the inning. Bracewell got a ground out to third base and then the strikeout to end the game, closing his high school career with a 15-0 record, an ERA below 1.0 and more than 150 strikeouts.

After the game, Hall lobbied for Bracewell to be named Mr. Baseball in the state Alabama, pointing out that he has pitched in four games, 21 innings in the past eight days.

Bracewell threw a five-inning no-hitter May 5 in Game 1 against Beauregard and returned to the mound to close the final two innings of Game 3 the next day. On May 9, Bracewell pitched a complete game, 2-0, shutout to win Game 2 against St. Paul’s and went the distance against Hartselle, striking out nine and allowing three hits.

Briarwood (31-7) will be the home team in Game 2 of the Class 5A championship series Thursday at 4 p.m. at Riverwalk Stadium. Game 3 will follow, if necessary.

Hartselle’s Chad Girodo (16-1), also a MSU signee, will pitch Game 2, while Hall said he is unsure who will start for Briarwood.

Live stats of the games are available at