April 28, 2010 9:28:00 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
CARROLLTON, Ala. -- The Pickens Academy baseball team put itself in a situation without many options early in the season.
Three region losses left the Pirates in danger of missing out on their first goal of the season: Making the playoffs.
"The losses rallied the team and we knew we had to win out," junior pitcher Chase Davidson said.
Faced with the prospect of seeing their season end too soon, the Pirates responded to help secure their postseason chances.
Pickens Academy (16-4) will try to take the next step at 4 p.m. today when it travels to Elmore, Ala., to play Edgewood Academy in an Alabama Independent Schools Association Class AA playoff doubleheader.
If necessary, game three would be at 4 p.m. Thursday at Edgewood. The winner will advance to the state championship series, which begins May 4 at Paterson Field in Montgomery, Ala.
Pickens Academy coach Brach White believes his team will be the underdog against Edgewood. But he knows that won''t stop the Pirates from doing what they have done best all year: Produce up and down the lineup and receive solid pitching.
"Pitching has been our strong point," White said. "We have less than a 2.00 ERA. The key has been throwing strikes. If we can make the routine plays and hit a little, we''re going to be successful."
Davidson (7-1), Tyler Vails (4-3), and Bryant Fikes (4-0) have led the way on the mound. Davidson, a junior, has struck out 27 and walked none in his last two outings, while Vails pitched five strong innings to push the Pirates into the Final Four.
"They have done a very good job," Pickens Academy senior Kirk Lewis said of the pitchers. "Chase is a great pitcher. He is a control pitcher and he can overpower you."
Davidson, who also hits in the cleanup spot, feels he can be dominating on the mound. He has confidence to throw his curveball in any count and likes to overpower hitters with his fastball. Add in "pretty good" control and Davidson said he can dictate the count.
"Knowing it is playoffs I have worked a little harder and tried a little more," Davidson said.
White said all three of his main pitchers are going to make hitters work at the plate. Last year, he said his pitchers threw strikes and they have continued to do that this year. He said Davidson''s curveball makes his fastball even better.
"He is one of the top strikeout leaders in the state, public and private," White said of Davidson, who has 105 strikeouts in 57 innings.
At the plate, Davidson isn''t a typical No. 4 hitter. While capable of delivering a home run, Davidson said he tries to put the ball in play to help produce runs. He feels he is more of a line-drive hitter, but that has worked so far for the Pirates.
Lewis inherited the leadoff role from Cody McAteer and has performed at a high level. White admits the second baseman isn''t the prototypical table-setter who works counts and relies only on speed to get on base. Instead, Lewis can drive the ball into the gaps and then capitalize on his speed. He said he enjoys setting the tone for Vails, Fikes, and Davidson, who follow him in the order. Lewis and Davidson are the only players hitting above .400 this season.
"Lewis is leading the team in hitting," White said. "He is a great defensive player who if he gets on has great speed and is going to score a lot of the time."
Lewis said a region loss to Patrician Academy (and another to Lowndes Academy) early in the season forced the Pirates to refocus. He said he never doubted the team would recover from a slow start. He said splitting two games against Marengo Academy, which was the top-ranked team in the state at the time, helped give the team confidence to know it could put things together.
"Looking back on last year and how good we did and how good it felt to be successful (helped us to re-focus)," Lewis said. "After we lost to Patrician, it kind of hit us that if we don''t start playing baseball we might not end up like we did last year (2009 Region champs)."
Pickens Academy regrouped and used a nine-game winning streak to realize its first goal -- make the playoffs. Now the team is focused on reaching the other goals -- winning 20 games and capturing a state title.
That script will play out perfectly if the Pirates take care of business in their next two series.
White and the players believes they are ready.
"When we play our game, we''re good, and I don''t think anybody can beat us," Lewis said. "When we''re not on, it is pretty ugly. It seems like when we start off the game slow we can''t pick it up."
Lewis acknowledges that puts a little bit of pressure on him to light the fuse. He said it is pretty nerve-wracking and feels he has done "pretty good" at it all year. He hopes to pick it up again in time for the final two series of the season.
"I used to be a power hitter, and all I did was pull the ball," Lewis said. "This year, I worked in the cage and got to the point where I could hit it to the opposite field. Now I am working on getting base hits to try to start the game off right."
If Lewis does his job and the pitchers remain strong, White feels his team can keep its season alive.
"I didn''t expect anything less. I felt we were going to get into the playoffs one way or another," White said. "If we could just get into the playoffs we were going to have a chance. The number of games we played early in the season didn''t ket us know how good we were. ... They want the opportunity to win it, and they have got the chance now."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.