Briarwood blanked by Hartselle in title game

Published 6:45 pm Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hartselle power hitter Luke Bole claimed bragging rights over future Mississippi State University teammate Ben Bracewell Thursday, as Bole’s bat lifted the Tigers to a doubleheader sweep of Briarwood, 8-4 and 4-0, to win the Class 5A state championship series at Riverwalk Stadium.

Bole, who lost to Bracewell in a 2-1 pitchers’ duel in Game 1 of the best-of-three series Wednesday, received MVP honors Thursday after collecting two of Hartselle’s three hits in the decisive Game 3. The one that stood out the most was a three-run blast to right field in the third inning.

“Today at practice, I hit about 5,000 balls off the tee, just trying to get my swing back that I had earlier in the season,” Bole said. “Thank goodness I found it.”

The home run was Bole’s 20th of the season, tying him with Bo Jackson and two others for sixth on the AHSAA list for homers in a season. The blast came off Briarwood sophomore pitcher Logan Crook, who lasted two and two-third innings on the mound in Game 3, allowing all four earned runs off just one hit, Bole’s home run. He walked four.

“I pitched awful, walking two out of the three leadoff batters in an inning kills you,” Crook said. “I threw a hanging curveball to Luke Bole, who’s an excellent hitter, and he crushed it over the fence. There were too many mistakes to win a ball game.”

After Crook left the mound and moved to the outfield, senior lefty Evan Simmons made his third appearance of the season, holding the Tigers from scoring any more runs, despite allowing two hits and walking three through four and a third innings.

“My arm is dead pretty much,” said Simmons, who has a tweaked UCL in his throwing arm. “I’ve got the rest of my life to recover, so I had to lay it on the line and give it my all. It’s a shame this is my last time to pitch.”

Briarwood left six runners stranded in the game and only managed to get four hits.

“When we hit it solid, we just couldn’t find a hole,” said Briarwood catcher Debo Crew, who had one of the four hits in Game 3. The other three came from Simmons, Bracewell and Paul McKelvey.

In Game 2 of the series, Mississippi State signee Chad Girodo shut down the Lions, 8-3, setting a new AHSAA single-season win record for Hartselle (50-9). Cullman previously held the record with 48 wins 2007.

Girodo pitch three hitless innings for Hartselle to start the game after the Tigers took a 4-0 lead in the second inning. Bole had an RBI double in the first and RBIs by Nic Howard and Zack Waddell in the second.

Bracewell led off the bottom of the fourth with a double and scored on a double by McKelvey to break up the no-hitter and put the Lions on the board. Briarwood added another tun in the fifth on a solo home run to left by Jonathan Logan. Hartselle added one in the fifth, two in the sixth and one in the seventh to stretch its lead to 8-2. Evan Simmons picked up an RBI to score Matthew Furuto on a sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the seventh.

David Woods went the distance for Briarwood, allowing six earned runs on 11 hits and four walks. He struck out two.

Girodo tossed six and two-third innings, allowing three earned runs off six hits and three strikeouts.

Briarwood (31-9) advanced to the state championship series after pushing through the season without a shutout and never losing back-to-back games until Thursday.

“I tip my hat to (Hartselle), because they are the best team we’ve played all year. Nobody has beat us two games in a row,” Briarwood head coach Lee Hall said. “Today we didn’t respond to the first loss and I think a lot of that credit goes to Hartselle.”

The title game is exactly where Bracewell said he had hoped to end his career.

“We dreamed of ending it here, and we all knew that we could do it,” Bracewell said, speaking of he and the other seven seniors. “We’d seen, the year before, what all we could do as a team. I completely expected to be here. It was awesome, but I wasn’t shocked like everybody in the state was. Obviously. I wanted it to end a little differently.”

Immediately following Game 3, Hall gathered his team in rightfield, screaming to his players after the loss. It wasn’t negative words, but positive words, as he encouraged his players to keep their heads up.

“If you base this whole season on one game, then you’ve missed the point of what I’ve been trying to teach you,” Hall said. “I am proud to say I was your coach this year, because this is a championship team, and it’s the first championship team I’ve coached.”

Hall emphasized that even though the Lions lost the title game, they achieved every other goal the seniors set for the team this year, including a school record 31 wins and first appearance in a state championship since the early 1990s.

“We’re trying to teach them that it’s about the journey,” Hall said “If you base it all on wins and loses, then we’re never going to be successful because only one team is going to win a state championship.”

Having started a sophomore and eighth grader pitcher in the playoffs this season and three other underclassmen in the starting lineup, Hall is positive about the future of the Lions’ program.

“There was never a negative thing that went on in our dugout or off the field with these guys. We have the talent to be good again, but if our younger guys learn that principal, we’ll be real good,” Hall said.