STORY/PHOTOS: Kingwood wins two thrillers to advance to semifinals

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

ALABASTER – It might have taken two one-run games that were won in the final inning, but the Kingwood Lions are on their way to the semifinals of the 2017 AISA baseball playoffs putting them one series away from an appearance in the state championship.

After a bye in the first round of the playoffs thanks to winning their region championship, the Lions were fresh and ready to go in the quarterfinals as they took down South Choctaw 2-1 in game one and 5-4 in game two on their way to a closely-contested sweep on Thursday, April 27.

While both games were thrilling, Kingwood dominated both at the plate and on the mound outhitting the Rebels 16-8 between the two games.

Game 1: Kingwood 2 – South Choctaw 1

Game one was all about Garrett Landry on the mound as he threw 109 pitches allowing just one hit and one run while striking out an unfathomable 13 of the 27 batters he faced in the game. Despite trailing from the third inning to the sixth inning, he never allowed the deficit to get out of hand as he kept his team within striking distance the entire way.

South Choctaw took the lead in the top of the third after Landry gave up two walks and a single before allowing a third walk with the bases loaded to bring in the game’s first run. Landry, however, was able to strike out the next batter to get out of the dangerous jam.

Over the next three innings, Landry allowed just one more base runner by way of walk to keep his team in the game. Despite struggling offensively, they came to the plate in the bottom of the sixth with a chance.

Landry decided to take it upon himself to make sure his hard work on the mound wasn’t for naught. After a single and hit by pitch to start the inning, Landry singled on a hard ground ball to left field to score JP Calvert to tie things up at one apiece.

After he came back to the mound and got his third 1-2-3 inning in the last four, Kingwood came back to the plate with a chance to win the game in the bottom of the seventh.

The Lions started the inning with back-to-back strikeouts and it was starting to look like extra innings were in the forecast, but a one-pitch single by Seth Lovorn gave Kingwood some hope. Josh Velo stepped in the batter’s box next and continued the aggressive style of play driving the first pitch he saw over the center fielder’s head to bring Lovorn around to score all the way from first for a walk-off single as the Lions had won game one 2-1.

Calvert was 2-3 at the plate and the Lions only multi-hit performer, while Landry and Velo both had one-hit days that featured both of Kingwood’s RBIs.

Game 2: Kingwood 5 – South Choctaw 4

As if their hearts weren’t already pounding enough after game one, game two might have been even more exciting, but that’s what the playoffs are all about.

Both teams battled through the first three innings of the game as they were locked up in a 3-3 tie. That tie was finally broken in the bottom of the fifth inning as South Choctaw put together back-to-back singles to take a 4-3 lead.

The Rebels held that lead for the next two innings until Kingwood came to the plate in the top of the seventh needing at least one run to continue the game. The Lions clearly came to the plate with a different, more aggressive mindset as they were seeing pitches much better. Parker Foshee, Guy Boyd and Lovorn led off the inning with three straight singles before Velo grounded into a fielder’s choice that allowed Foshee to cross the plate for the game-tying run.

That was followed by a walk to Calvert before Jayden Denard came to the plate and lined a rocket to center field that allowed Boyd to cross the plate to give Kingwood a 5-4 lead, which they held at the end of the top half of the seventh.

After Calvert got the start on the mound, Velo came in to close the game out and pitched an inning of beauty striking out two batters and getting the save in just 11 pitches as the Lions were able to hold on for the come-from-behind win to sweep South Choctaw.

Lovorn and Velo both had multi-hit games with two apiece, while eight total Kingwood players picked up a hit. Josh Wright, Velo, Denard and Calvert all picked up RBIs.

Kingwood now advances to the semifinals of the state playoffs where they will take on 26-9 Clarke Prep who swept Lowndes Academy 5-4 and 9-0 in the quarterfinals.

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