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Bobcat boys advance to championship

The Phil Campbell Bobcats are headed back to the Class 3A baseball finals for the first time since 2006.

The Bobcats beat Piedmont 12-2 in the decisive game three Friday afternoon to punch their ticket to Montgomery. Phil Campbell will play Bayside Academy (27-7) Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m. at Patterson Field in Montgomery.

The two teams will play again Friday morning at 10 a.m. at Riverwalk Park. If necessary, game three will be immediately after.

John Miller Lawson drew a basesloaded walk to send in the winning run. The Bobcats poured out of the dugout and off the bases to form a celebratory pile in the infield as Coach Jonathan Raper pointed to the sky.

Most teams that win have talent – obviously – but championshipwinning teams have to have a little something extra, and that is usually team chemistry. That chemistry shows when the Bobcats take the field and when they are in the batter’s box.

“They root for each other. They will do whatever you ask them to do,” said Raper. “Our dugout is awesome. They are cheering for each other and want to succeed.”

It also helps to have support from the community. The Phil Campbell baseball park was packed full of cars, and cars lined the road leading into the baseball complex for about a mile. A flatbed trailer parked just beyond the right field fence held the Bobcat student section.

“We have had so much support from so many people,” said Raper. “This atmosphere was unreal. I’ve never seen anything like it.

“We are just so fortunate to have so much support from this community.

Although game one and game three were relatively easy – Phil Campbell won game one 13-0 – game two was anything but easy. The Bobcats led Piedmont 6-4 going into the bottom of the seventh inning, but Piedmont loaded the bases, and two costly errors led to a 7-6 walkoff win by Bulldogs.

It was not what the Bobcats wanted to happen, but it was also familiar territory.

“First thing I said to them last night was, ‘Does this look familiar?’” said Raper. “This is the same thing that happened last Friday at Fyffe. This is nothing new. We’ve been here. We have to show up and just play baseball.

“I was probably more nervous today than they were. Having so many seniors helps us overcome adversity just because they’ve been through so much.”

That is just what the Bobcats did. Piedmont took a 2-0 lead right out of the gate in the top of the first inning.  Phil Campbell didn’t blink. They responded in the bottom half of the inning with six runs of their one to take a 6-2 lead.

The Bobcats put the game away in the bottom of the fourth inning on a three-run homer by Trey Leindecker.

“Our team chemistry is what got us here,” said senior Ridge Raper. “At the end of the day, we don’t care who does what or who gets the credit as long as we win. Our tenthgrade year, we got put out of the playoffs by Piedmont. Last year, we wanted another shot at them, but we got shut down and couldn’t play because of COVID.

“It’s been two years since we got to play in the playoffs, and they were the last team to beat us in the playoffs, so this is special to us.

Senior Austen Baker said this team has what it takes to finish the season on top.

“We are really close knit,” said Baker. “We have some great pitchers and a solid defense behind them. We are really excited to have this opportunity.”

One of those pitchers is junior Mason Swinney, who recently committed to the University of Alabama. Swinney pitched a one-hit shutout in game one of the series and launched a deep two-run homerun to spark a big inning.

“This is great,” said Swinney while celebrating the team’s series win. “We have a great group of seniors. We feel like we can go out there and play with anyone and win.”

That is the kind of confidence that has gotten the Bobcats to the Class 3A finals. It might just be enough to get them across the finish line. If it does, it will be the school’s first state championship in more than 70 years.