By Lee Davis
Briarwood baseball coach Steve Renfroe knew from the beginning that he probably would have a good team in 2017.
In fact, the 2016 season had barely ended when Renfroe caught himself looking ahead.
“Normally after a long season, everyone is pretty much exhausted,” Renfroe said. “But after last year, I was so excited about what was coming I didn’t go to sleep until about 4:30 in the morning.”
As March has turned to April, Renfroe’s early excitement about the Lions has proven to be more than justified. Briarwood completed spring break with a 21-3 record and number one ranking in the Class 5A poll. Even more impressively, the team started with a perfect 12-0 on the road.
“Baseball is a pretty simple game,” Renfroe said. “It all begins with pitching and defense. We’ve also had great leadership. Every player on this team has accepted their roles. Whenever we’ve needed a big hit, someone has always come up with it.”
Renfroe is getting some good help in the dugout as well. Two former major leaguers – Matt Guerrier and Wes Helms – have joined the Lion coaching staff.
If quality pitching is the key to success in baseball, it’s understandable why Briarwood is off to such a strong start. The Lion pitchers have been outstanding from the beginning. Sam Strickland leads with a 7-0 record, with 60 strikeouts and a tiny ERA of .718. Michael Hiers is 4-0 with 23 strikeouts and an ERA of .887. Logan Whittlesey has compiled a 4-1 worksheet while striking out 35 batters with an ERA of .442.
“Our pitching staff has done a tremendous job,” Renfroe said. “It’s a confidence builder for our team to know that we’ve got several guys who can go in there and throw strikes.”
It’s also a plus when pitchers realize they are probably going to get plenty of runs on their side. Briarwood’s bats are as hot as any in metro Birmingham, with the roster dotted with players batting above .300. With only eight home runs for the year, the Lions aren’t a tremendous power team, but they make up for it with consistency.
Kolby Kwarcinski is hitting .413 with 19 RBIs. Cole Steadman is batting .405 with 25 RBIs. Carson Eddy, Will Brumback, Hudson Hartsfield, Strickland and Whittlesey are among other Briarwood players with averages above.300 with double-digit RBI totals. The Lion scoring machine has scored more than 10 runs in no fewer than a dozen games. In their first five contests, Briarwood scored an eye-popping 77 runs. Perhaps the most impressive offensive effort was a 14-6 pounding of powerful Pelham in early March.
“We really don’t have a weak spot in our lineup,” Renfroe said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who are good at getting on base. That’s where it all starts on offense.”
Briarwood is aligned in Class 5A’s Area Eight with Moody, Shelby County and Sylacauga, but its overall schedule more resembles a Class 6A or Class 7A slate with large public school powers as Oak Mountain and Mountain Brook filling many of the dates.
“We really appreciate those schools playing us, because they don’t have to,” said Renfroe. “Those tough games against larger schools help us get ready for the playoffs.”
The coach said his players weren’t intimidated by larger schools. “They get excited about going against the bigger schools but it’s not really a big deal,” he explained. “In baseball, you just go out and play.”
Although prospects for a memorable season are excellent, Renfroe is philosophical about Briarwood’s chances for a state title. “I think we have the arms and the bats to go a long way,” he said. “Once you make the playoffs, it all depends on the match ups.”
Anything can happen in the post season, but for the moment the Lions are still keeping their coach awake at night for all the right reasons.