Shelby County downs No. 5 Gulf Shores in opening round of playoffs

Published 10:32 pm Friday, April 21, 2023

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

GULF SHORES – Following last year’s trip to the quarterfinals of the Class 5A playoffs, the Shelby County Wildcats are headed to the second round again this year thanks to a sweep against Gulf Shores in the opening round on Friday, April 21.

As the area runner-up, the Wildcats had to hit the road south for the first round to take on No. 5 Gulf Shores, but they didn’t let them or the tough matchup phase them.

Shelby County used similar efforts in both games, taking tightly-contested games late and pulling away with clutch stretches of play for wins of 7-4 and 9-4 to complete the two-game sweep.

In the opening game of the series, the Wildcats were able to take the early lead in the top of the first with two quick runs after loading the bases with no outs.

Gulf Shores, however, used a two-out rally in the fourth to score four runs and storm in front for a 4-2 advantage.

The Dolphins were able to maintain that lead through the fifth inning, but Shelby County’s offense found clutch play in the final two innings to avoid falling into a 1-0 series hole.

In the top of the sixth, back-to-back singles from Jace Bolan and Austin Wilson set the stage for a two-RBI single from Cooper Pennington, who drove home both baserunners with a single of his own to even the score at 4-4.

After an out was recorded, a double from Davis Ruston was followed by a Logan Starnes two-RBI single to all of a sudden put the Wildcats in front 6-4 through the top of the sixth.

A 1-2-3 inning defensively allowed Shelby County to quickly get back to the plate, and the Wildcats capitalized when Wilson drove home an insurance run on an RBI double to left field.

Up 7-4, Alex Gillum finished off a stellar three innings of work on the mound by putting down three of the four batters he faced to protect the lead and earn a 7-4 win in the opening game of the series.

Gillum pitched the final three innings and gave up one walk with no runs or hits and two strikeouts.

He finished off the game for Grant Robinson, who pitched the first four innings and allowed four unearned runs with one walk and four hits allowed.

At the plate, Wilson led the way with two hits and an RBI, while Pennington and Starnes both finished with one hit and two RBIs. Noah Reed finished with two hits, while Bolan, Blake Jennings and Ruston each finished with one hit.

Looking for the sweep, the second game was a tightly-contested battle through the first five innings of play with each team having an answer, but it was Shelby County that finished strong once again.

The Wildcats took a 1-0 lead in the first, while Gulf Shores answered in the third with a run of its own.

Shelby County, however, put up a four spot in the bottom of the fourth to open up a 5-1 advantage.

It looked like the Wildcats would pull away at that point, but the Dolphins quickly answered in the top of the fifth with their season on the line. They scored three runs to draw within a run heading to the sixth inning.

That’s when Shelby County’s offense put the game away. The Wildcats posted another four-run inning in the bottom of the sixth to take a 9-4 lead, and they finished off the final inning quickly from there with three outs in four at bats to pick up the five-run win.

Colby Matherson was big in the win with a triple and two total hits leading to three RBIs and a run scored. Wilson and Carter Sheehan each added an RBI on one hit, while Ruston and Jennings finished with one RBI each and a combined four walks. Reed finished with one hit and three runs scored.

Micah Morris got the start on the mound and allowed four runs, hits and walks with four strikeouts in the complete-game win.

Shelby County will now take on Demopolis or Charles Henderson in the second round of the playoffs.