Briarwood walks off against Chilton County to advance to semis

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor 

NORTH SHELBY – Last year it was Michael Hiers, this year, add Carson McKinney to the list of Briarwood baseball heroes.

In postponed quarterfinal matchup with No. 5 Chilton County, originally scheduled for Saturday, May 4, the Lions played host to the Tigers on Monday, May 6, at Jay Kynerd Field with one team set to move on to the semifinals and one having its season come to an end.

Trailing 3-2 entering the bottom of the seventh, Briarwood came to the plate with the top of the order due up, but had just left two runners in scoring position with no outs the inning before.

While not being able to at least tie the game was a momentum boost for Chilton County, the Lions had finally threatened again for the first time since scoring two runs in the second inning.

That gave Briarwood some confidence when the top of the order led off the home half of the final inning.

In that lead-off spot, Bryce Perrien was able to reach base safely after a battle of an at bat ended with a single to the opposite field.

Parker Hutson tried to move him over with a bunt, but fouled off an attempt with two strikes to put the first out on the board.

With one down, Wesley Helms stepped to the plate. One of the most consistent and patient hitters for Briarwood this year, especially in the postseason, Helms used his patience to draw a five-pitch walk, which put runners on first and second with one out.

That set the stage for McKinney in the cleanup spot.

Batting .333 coming into the game with 25 RBIs, including 14 doubles, making him one of the most dangerous players to pick up an extra-base hit to win the game.

And the junior wasted no time swinging away, as he took the first pitch he saw and drove it deep to left field. Off the bat, the ball popped perfectly and looked as if it would leave the park, but it hit midway up the wall and dropped down on the warning track.

Perrien rounded third and scored with ease, and right on his heels was Helms, who leaped emphatically in the air as players started seeping out of the dugout when he landed on the plate for the game-winning run in a 4-3 walk-off victory.

Every player in the dugout, as well as Perrien and Helms, immediately ran toward McKinney before a dog pile ensued between the pitcher’s mound and second base with not only players, but students pouring onto the field to join in as well.

McKinney’s hit not only took the Lions from being eliminated in two more outs to winning the game, but it propelled them into the semifinals of the Class 5A playoffs, as they now sit just one series victory against Sylacauga away from the state championship series.

It’s the second year in a row Briarwood has won a thrilling postseason game. Last year, the Lions trailed by eight runs to Beauregard in the first round of the playoffs, but bounced back to win the elimination game on a walk-off single from Hiers.

McKinney took Hiers’ spot this year and played the role of hero with his team’s season on the line, but he also played a role in the win much earlier than the final inning.

After the Lions fell behind 2-0 due to a home run from Chilton County’s Dee Childers in the top of the first, Briarwood responded in the second inning, and it started with McKinney.

He led the inning off with a single, while Sam Hamner followed with a walk to put two runners aboard with no outs.

Back-to-back strikeouts then occurred, but just before the second one, a passed ball allowed McKinney to score the first run of the game. That was then followed by an RBI single from Eli Steadman to tie the game at 2-2.

Chilton County, however, jumped back in front 3-2 in the top half of the third, and it looked as if that was going to be enough for the Tigers.

Over the next few innings, both Briarwood pitcher Noah Whatley and Chilton County Rylee Thornton settled in on the mound as the team’s go-to starters.

Both teams put runners aboard over the next few innings, but neither really put together a threat of scoring until Briarwood late in the game.

In the bottom of the fifth, the Lions put two runners aboard with two outs, but left both stranded, and then in the bottom of the sixth, they did the same thing after the first two batters of the inning were hit before advancing into scoring position with no outs where they were stranded to leave the game tied heading to the seventh.

Briarwood not capitalizing on those opportunities seemed like they would be costly mistakes, but it turned out the Lions were a team that wanted to make the game as interesting as possible until the very last second.

Helms and McKinney both finished the game with two hits apiece and played a major role in the win, while Steadman added a hit and one RBI. Perrien and Hutson added the Lions’ other two hits.

After giving up three runs in the first three innings, Whatley got comfortable on the mound and didn’t allow a run the rest of the game. He finished off a complete-game effort allowing just seven hits and three runs with seven strikeouts.

Heading into the semifinals, Briarwood has now gone 16-3 in its last 19 games with the three losses coming to quality opponents.