Briarwood seniors leave legacy despite title series loss
By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor
MONTGOMERY – After an 0-11 start, Briarwood’s 2019 baseball season looked bleak. Nobody knew what to expect heading into area play, as the team’s difficult schedule left many answers, but 25 games later, the Lions showed their pride and resilience.
While the Lions dropped two consecutive games to Springville on Saturday, May 17, in Montgomery’s Riverwalk Stadium to fall in the Class 5A State Championship series after winning game one the night before, they never wavered down the stretch thanks to the seniors keeping this team together and the young players improving into a dangerous group moving forward.
After winning game one of the series 5-4 on Friday night, Briarwood came back on Saturday needing just one win in two games to take home the crown, but a combined 17 runs between the two third innings of each game led to losses of 12-9 and 9-3, as the Tigers came back to steal the crown.
Heartbreak was evident all over the faces of each Briarwood players, while some shed tears and others had already turned it into determination moving forward, but every player shared one sentiment in common—thanks.
For seniors Bryce Perrien, Sam Hamner, Guin Renfroe, Noah Whatley, Zack Nuyt and Andrew Ponder, every player tried to make their rounds with hugs and words of thanks to each of them, and head coach Steve Renfroe only needed a few select words to describe the group that poured everything they had into the program the last several years.
“It’s the best group I’ve ever been with,” Renfroe said barely getting the words out before tears overcame his eyes and a long pause ensued.
After he was able to recapture his words, he admitted that this wasn’t just the best group he’s coached at the high school level, but any level after spending time as the Auburn baseball head coach, including coaching former Atlanta Braves standout Tim Hudson.
“Tim Hudson was here today and yesterday and Rob Macrory, and I told them ‘Y’all would love these guys. They’re your kind of guys.’ They rate up there with Timmy and Robby. That was the team I told these guys they are tied with for the top spot of best and most enjoyable teams to coach.”
It was such a special team, that Renfroe decided to name captains for the first time in his coaching career after more than 35 years as a head coach.
Hamner, Guin Renfroe, Whatley and Perrien were those four captains this season, and the head coach knew that would be the group to help bring them out of a hole and to the prominence they found.
After an 0-11 start, it could have continued to go downhill, but the Lions bounced back to go 20-5 over their final 25 games with playoff series wins against UMS-Wright, Chilton County and Sylacauga to earn a spot in the championship series.
“I always thought we had it in us,” Hamner said. “We were playing top teams, but were still playing good baseball. We were also missing two of our key players and I knew once we got them back everything would start clicking at some point. So I always expected us to get here.”
As Tyler Waugh described it, it was just a road block for the team to get around to figure out who they were and what it was going to take to be the best.
And the Lions showed that same fight in the final two games of the series.
After falling behind 12-4 in the second game of the series, the Lions battled back with five runs in the bottom of the seventh and brought the game-winning run to the plate with the bases loaded, but a pitching change ended the threat Springville’s Chase Isbell recording the final two outs with 90 MPH fastballs.
The Lions led 3-1 in that game before the nine-run third changed the momentum of the contest, and in the decisive game three, they came out to take a 2-0 lead in the first inning, but another dominant third inning turned things in favor of Springville.
After sophomore Carson McKinney got the start and was pitching well through the first two innings, he started feeling some soreness in the tricep on his throwing arm.
He threw a warmup pitch before the third inning, but immediately knew he had to come out of the game. Springville took advantage and put eight runs on the board in the inning to take an 8-2 lead.
That was followed by incredible pitching from Braden Hughes the rest of the way. After giving up two runs in the first, he allowed just one more the rest of the way to pick up the complete-game victory for the state championship. He finished the game with six strikeouts and allowed just six hits.
For Briarwood, several had an impressive series to end the 2019 season. In his final game, Perrien came in and pitched the final four innings allowing one hit and striking out two. He also went 3-for-12 at the plate with two RBIs during the series.
Hamner had a 5-for-8 mark at the plate to close out his career driving home three runs in the series. Waugh went 5-for-9 and drove home one RBI, while McKinney went 5-for-9 with three RBIs and three runs scored.
Blake McKenna and Wesley Helms, both back on next year’s team, picked up four hits apiece with a combined three RBIs in the series. Eli Steadman added three hits with one RBI.
While they’ll all be disappointed for a short period of time, they did what very few Briarwood teams have done by making it to the state championship series. In 2009 the team finished runner-up under Lee Hall and also did the same thing under Jay Kynerd in the 90s.
That puts this team in the company of just two other Briarwood baseball teams in school history, and that’s something this group should remember for the rest of their lives.
“It was a great ride with these guys,” Renfroe said. “We have an impressive group coming back, but they’ll have quite the legacy to live up to.”
Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com.