Cinderella Panthers enter state baseball playoffs

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Coach Randy Spring and his Brookhaven Panthers hope to continuetheir Cinderella baseball season for the next four weeks. Freshfrom winning the Division 6-4A championship, the Panthers (22-8)take their first state playoff step Thursday when they host theDivision 8-4A runner-up Vancleave Bulldogs (25-3) on Moyer Field.Game time is 7 p.m.

The state playoffs feature a best-of-three series in each roundof the playoffs, with the division champion hosting the first game.Game Two of the Brookhaven-Vancleave series is set for Vancleave at7 p.m. Friday. If a third game is necessary, it will be playedSaturday at Brookhaven, starting at 2 p.m.

In other area first round playoff games Thursday, Division 6-2Achampion Loyd Star (20-7) hosts North Forest (16-7) and Wesson(16-7) visits Gulfport St. John (14-10) Thursday night in Class 2A.In Class 4A, division runner-up Lawrence County (18-10) visits EastCentral (20-4) at Hurley. In Class 3A, Division 7 champion NorthPike (14-8) hosts Philadelphia (20-8).

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Franklin County, runner-up in Division 7-3A, lost 6-0 to WestLauderdale Tuesday night in the opening round. The Bulldogs willhost West Lauderdale Friday night at 7 in Bude for Game Two.

The Panthers were the biggest surprise in area baseball thisseason. They knocked off defending division champion Terry twostraight games, launching an 11-game victory string that led to thedivision title.

“A lot of people didn’t expect us to be very good,” Springpointed out. “We went from 13 wins last year to 22 wins and weovercame a lot of adversity.”

Spring said his players never stopped working hard to improvetheir offensive and defensive skills. “They kept coming back towork. They never did quit.”

Spring has five senior starters on his team in pitcher/infielderReggie Smith, pitcher/first baseman Josh Townsend, second basemanJustin Sykes, centerfielder Josh Anderson and leftfielder CoreySmith.

Sykes, making a strong comeback from a broken arm sustained lastseason, leads the team in batting with a .464 average. Reggie Smithbats .440. Shortstop Brooks Hall bats .404.

Sophomore catcher/designated hitter Grant McDonnieal leads theteam in homers with 4 but he will be a spectator for the playoffs.McDonnieal broke his leg chasing a popup two weeks ago in a game atWesson.

Spring, in his fourth year at the helm, remembers Vancleave froma previous playoff showdown three years ago. The Panthers lost twostraight games to Coach Hayden Cox’s squad.

Loyd Star, coached by Sidney Wheatley, hopes toride the playoff wagon farther into the playoffs this season. Theyadvanced to the South State semifinals last year, being eliminatedby Lumberton.

Wheatley’s Hornets have played well, knocking off several largeschools, including Class 5A Clinton. Pitcher/shortstop Jody Britt,first baseman David Cuevas outfielder /pitcher Blake Wall, catcherMatthew Delaughter, second baseman Justin Whatley andpitcher/centerfielder Jared Britt lead the Hornets.

Game Two of the series will be played Friday at North Forrest.Saturday’s game, if necessary, will be played at Loyd Star,starting at 1 p.m.

Wesson, coached by Phillip Knight, has enjoyeda banner campaign with the exception of two 1-run losses to LoydStar which determined the division championship. The Cobras are asenior-laden team.

The Cobras are led by senior shortstop David Williams,rightfielder Russell Robinson, pitcher/outfielder Joseph Langham,catcher Chris Peets and pitchers Justin Smith and Kyle Smith.

Lawrence County, coached by Chris Clark, beatRaymond in 8 innings Monday night to secure the runner-up spot inDivision 6-4A. The Cougars got off to a slow, 3-7 start this seasonbut finished strong, beating Terry in a crucial best-of-threeseries.

Pitchers Luke Watts, Klein Harbour and Casey Williams and firstbaseman Corey Rogers lead the Cougars.