Shelby County squeezes past Briarwood in playoffs

In the record books, one run will be the difference in Shelby County High School’s 3-2 nine-inning win over Briarwood Christian School in the deciding third game of the second round series in the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 5A baseball playoffs.

In reality, it was just a few feet that separated the two teams April 26 at Jay D. Kynerd Field and lifted the Wildcats to unchartered territory in the playoffs.

Evan McNeal’s squeeze bunt dribbler that ran 10 feet in front of home plate with the bases loaded combined with Joe Pate’s attentive base running allowed Shelby County to complete a doubleheader sweep with an 8-6 win in the second game and 3-2 win in the third game to take the series.

The Wildcats (22-8) will now host Spanish Fort in the third round of the playoffs April 30-May 1. Shelby County advanced to the quarterfinal round for the first time in program history.

“We were going to squeeze all the way,” said Shelby County coach Shane Beasley. “Everything worked out.”

The game-winning play impressed Briarwood coach Steve Renfroe.

“A squeeze bunt there could be a double play,” Renfroe said. “He gets it down and you’ve got to tip your hat. It was a big-time play.”

The play capped a three-game series that saw two games decided in extra innings. Shelby County’s Garrett Sellers earned the win in the third game after shutting down the Briarwood lineup in the final 1 2/3 innings.

Sellers, who will have Tommy John surgery once the Wildcats’ season is over, has seen limited pitching opportunities this season due to his injury.

“I just threw strikes,” Sellers said. “I just tried to get everybody out without hurting my arm anymore.”

After Briarwood (23-10) took a 1-0 lead in the second inning, Chad King knocked an RBI single into left field to score Pate and tie the game.

After Sellers hit a Briarwood batter with the bases loaded to plate the go-ahead run in the top of the eighth inning, Sellers drove in Kevin McNorton with his RBI double to tie the game at 2-2.

Sellers retired the side in the top of the ninth before Pate reached on a walk and Austin Shelton doubled to begin the bottom half of the inning.

The Lions intentionally walked King before McNeal’s squeeze bunt sealed the win.

King finished 2-for-4 and drove in a run for the Wildcats. Paul McKelvey led the Lions with two singles.

Briarwood freshman Tanner Cunningham allowed only one run on three hits in six innings.

Briarwood scored four runs in the top of the first inning to jump out to a 4-0 lead in the second game of the series.

The Wildcats rallied with a seven-run second inning and didn’t look back. Dill closed out the win with two strikeouts in the final two innings.

McNorton, who gave up three runs in the first inning, led Shelby County with a three-run homer. Bailey Benton also homered in the victory.

Matthew Furuto led the Lions at the plate as he went 2-for-4 with a double, a single and an RBI.