Calera hangs on to advance to quarterfinals of 5A playoffs

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

CALERA – With one out in the bottom of the fifth inning, Calera’s Kevin Dowdell drove a ball over the right field fence to put the Eagles on top of Briarwood by a commanding score of 10-4 in a decisive game three at the Calera Sports Complex on Saturday, April 28. Little did he know at the time how key that home run would be.

With no outs in the top of the seventh and Briarwood already having scored two runs in the inning, Dowdell entered the game looking to close out the playoff victory.

Briarwood, who wasn’t in unfamiliar territory after erasing a three-run deficit the week before in the seventh inning to advance in the playoffs, had scored two early runs in the inning to cut the deficit to 10-6.

Trailing 10-4 coming into the inning, a walk and three consecutive singles from Sam Hamner, Hudson Hartsfield and Carson Eddy, followed by another walk had brought the Lions to within three runs with the bases still loaded and no outs.

Dowdell then entered the game and took over a tough situation. He allowed another single and walk to the Lions, who had stormed all the way back to within two runs.

Then, something started to click.

Dowdell was able to strike out Eli Steadman in a best-case scenario for Calera to put the first out of the inning on the board. Another run did score during the next at bat as Bryce Perrien grounded out to Tyler O’Clair, who proceeded to step on third for the fielder’s choice, while Michael Hiers crossed the plate to bring the Lions to within a run.

Now with two outs in the inning and Briarwood having scored five runs to pull within one of tying the game, it all came down to one final at bat.

Christian Ferguson fell behind in a 1-2 count and then hit a ground ball into play directly to O’Clair who stepped on the base for the third and final out of the game.

Despite the Lions gathering all of the momentum in the inning, Dowdell came in and worked out of as big of a jam as you can get into to propel the Eagles into the quarterfinals of the playoffs. Not only was his clutch pitching key, but had he not driven that homer to right field earlier in the game, the Eagles might have fallen short.

Dowdell was just one part of an exciting game, however, that was forced due to the two teams splitting a doubleheader on Friday, April 27.

The two teams came out firing in the first two innings, scoring a combined six runs between the two teams.

It started in the bottom of the first, as a single from Dowdell, a sac fly from O’Clair and two doubles from Austin McKinney and Christian Hall put Calera on top 2-0.

It took no time at all for the Lions to answer back as they started the top of the second off with three consecutive doubles from Parker Scott, Wesley Helms and Eli Steadman to tie the game immediately.

After a walk and an error, Hartsfield and Eddy strung together an RBI-single and a sac fly, respectively, to give the Lions a 4-2 lead at the end of two innings.

Scoring slowed down for the next couple of innings until the Eagles were able to strike with a big two-out rally in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Quin Darius Crews led the inning off with a single and eventually came around to score thanks to three wild pitches. With two outs on the board and the bases now clear, it looked as if that might be all of the damage in the frame.

Calera had other thoughts, however, and strung together a two-out rally that featured five more runs in the inning to take a strong 8-4 lead. McKinney had an RBI-single and Graham Blankenship had a bases-clearing double in the inning to put the bulk of the runs on the board.

Dowdell then added on that key two-run shot an inning later to give the Eagles the exact cushion they needed to preserve a win and set up a date in the quarterfinals of the playoffs.

Briarwood was led by Carson Eddy in his final game with the Lions. He went 3-for-3 at the plate with one RBI. Hartsfield, also a senior, went 2-for-4 at the plate with two RBIs and a run scored, while Parker Scott also went 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored. Wesley Helms ended his impressive freshman season with a 1-for-2 day including two RBIs and two walks.

Calera was led by both Dowdell and Blankenship at the plate. Dowdell went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and three runs scored, while Blankenship ended the game 2-for-4 with a game-high three RBIs.

Oddly enough, both of those guys were the key pitchers in the game as well with Blankenship getting the start on the mound and eventually picking up the win.   

Calera will now travel to Mobile to take on St. Paul’s in the quarterfinals of the playoffs, who was also pushed to three games before winning 8-4 to advance.

The Eagles best hope is for both Jacob Smith and O’Clair, two of the state’s best pitchers, to be locked in a zone on the mound against St. Paul’s after the two split their starts against Briarwood.