By Erik Harris
PINSON – For the second time in three years, Pinson Valley is headed for the semifinals of the Class 6A baseball playoffs.
After splitting a Friday night doubleheader with visiting No. 5 Briarwood Christian, the Indians took control of Game 3 early and outlasted the Area 9 champions 7-4 to move on.
Junior Raul Tafoya threw a complete game for Pinson Valley head coach Shane Chappell. The righty struck out six and gave a pair of free passes.
“He’s the guy that our whole team wants in with the game on the line,” said Chappell of Tafoya. “He’s a first-class guy. He’s the first one to pick up a rake and rake or go pick up trash and he’s come an unbelievably long way from where he was last year.”
The Indians (32-13) improved a three-run lead to a six-run lead in the top-half of the sixth inning to put the decisive contest out of reach. Three consecutive Lion errors fueled that outburst that started with a Jacob Brown single.
“We felt like we were more athletic and if we put some bunts down and put some pressure on them, we would force them into some mistakes and our guys did a great job,” said Chappell.
Brown would later reach on a hard slide into the plate when Tafoya grounded into a bases-loaded error to increase the lead to 5-1. Third baseman Baker Hodge then scored Rudd Mauldin on a sacrifice fly into center.
Senior Hunter Davidson put the inning to bed when he scorched a run-scoring double down the left field chalk to update the scoreboard at 7-1 heading for the bottom of the sixth.
Errors were a problem for Briarwood Christian (25-9) from the start. Hodge started the contest by reaching, thanks to a wild infield throw. He made the defense pay for the error, scoring the first of two first-inning runs.
The Lions answered with a run of their own in the first. A grounder off the bat of Pierce Merry took a brutal hop on Mauldin at second base, slipping into the outfield and scoring the runner from second to cut Pinson Valley’s lead to 2-1.
RBIs from Davidson and Gage Farley extended the home team’s advantage to 4-1 going into the top of the fourth. That’s when Briarwood Christian starter Sam Strickland handed the ball over to righty Harrison Cain
Strickland went 3 2/3 innings with a pair of strikeouts and a walk. Cain threw the remaining 4 1/3 innings for the Lions.
Dug into a 7-1 hole in the middle of the sixth frame, Briarwood Christian kept hope alive. Merry drove another run across in the sixth, but saw an opportunity to plate more runs vanish with a 6-3 double play.
The Lions threatened again in the seventh, sending two more across to cut the deficit to three, but Tafoya closed the door with his sixth strikeout of the day.
Top-ranked Cullman (41-9) will host the Indians for another best-of-3 series starting next Friday.