By Lee Davis
Journal Sports Writer
Last Thursday was a historic night in the history of Spain Park baseball.
Coach Will Smith’s Jaguars swept two games from Class 6A Area 12 rival Vestavia Hills to earn the first area baseball title in school history. After winning the opener 8-3, Spain Park took the second game 5-4 to get the win – and the area crown.
In the deciding game, the host Rebels took a 2-1 lead following Ryan Raspino’s double that scored two runs. Spain Park pitcher and University of Alabama commitment Colton Freeman came into the game in relief for starter Mikey White with one out in the fourth inning. Freeman fanned nine batters the rest of the way, while walking four Rebels.
Spain Park enjoyed a 5-2 lead entering the bottom of the seventh, but Vestavia didn’t go down without a fight. With two out and the bases loaded, the Rebels’ Russell Larsen hit a two-run double to cut the margin to 5-4.
But Freeman ended the drama by striking out the final Vestavia batter. His coolness under fire came to the forefront when he put Larsen’s double out of his mind to bounce back and get the game-winning out.
Smith was joyful and relieved when the long night ended.
“I’m 34 years old,” he said, smiling. “But I feel like I’m going on 84.”
The second game win was the Jaguars 30th victory of the season, against just nine losses.
In the first game, Alex Close earned the win for Spain Park. Close had two RBIs in the first inning that sent the Jags on the way to victory.
Spain Park’s dramatic pair of wins over Vestavia was a microcosm of the Jaguars’ season. Vestavia had beaten Spain Park 8-3 just two days earlier, setting the stage for Thursday’s epic confrontation. The Rebels needed only one win that day to earn the area crown, but the Jaguars produced when the stakes were highest.
“After we lost the first game, we had to forget about it and move on,” said Smith. “We couldn’t do anything about losing after the game was over. Everything had to be focused on the games in front of us.”
Spain Park’s power potential was shown in a weekend double header sweep of Hazel Green, where the Jaguars scored 29 runs in two games against the hapless Trojans.
Pitcher/first baseman Alex Close hit two home runs and drove in seven runs in the two-game set. Outfielder Marks Abernathy had six RBIs in the two games. Centerfielder/catcher Carter White had two doubles and three RBIs in the second game.
Hoover also clinched a championship that night. The Bucs defeated Pelham 4-2 to earn the Class 6A Area 10 championship. Patrick Conway’s three-run home run was Hoover’s big scoring thrust. Pitcher Matt Barnes held the Panthers to seven hits while striking out three.
The win raised Hoover’s record to 21-15 overall and, more importantly, 5-1 in area play.
“At the beginning of the year, we weren’t on anybody’s radar,” said Hoover coach Rick Davis, whose team spent much of the early part of the season with a record near the .500 mark. “We knew if we could put together some pitching that we’d have a chance to be pretty good.”
And Barnes produced that effort in the win over Pelham.
Youth was served in Briarwood’s 12-2 rout of Chelsea, as sophomore Daniel Robert went five for five, including a home run, two RBIs and three runs to give the Lions the Class 5A Area 7 championship.
Briarwood exploded for 10 unanswered runs after the Hornets had scored two in the top of the second inning to tie the score at 2-2.
Robert broke things open in the fourth when he parked a Chelsea pitch over the right field fence. The home plate umpire called the shot a foul ball, but the first base umpire intervened and ruled it a home run.
Briarwood closed the day with 17 hits. Coach Steve Renfroe credited the batters at the end of the batting lineup for helping turn the tide in the Lions’ favor.
“Our seven-eight-nine guys got hits after Chelsea got back in the game,” said Renfroe. “That was big.”
Will Brown got the win after pitching five and one-third innings. Cameron Adams picked up the last two outs.
Spain Park, Hoover and Briarwood may have all claimed area championships, but they know their battles are just beginning. There are tough post-season games on the way – some against the very foes they defeated to earn area titles.
But for now, the Jaguars, Bucs and Lions look like the teams to beat.