PLAS open playoffs with Wilcox Academy

Published 7:36 pm Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The hunt for a championship begins now.

After finishing the regular season with a 31-6 overall record, an AISA Class AAA No. 1 seed and a region championship, the Pike Liberal Arts Patriots will begin the journey back to Montgomery and the state tile game.

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But before the Patriots can think about holding up the final trophy of the season, they have to get there first.

First up for PLAS is Wilcox Academy, who will be making the two-hour drive from Camden, as the No. 4 seed in the bracket.

Last season, the Wildcats finished runner-up in the Class A state playoffs, and despite the move to AAA, Wilcox Academy still finds itself in the postseason, and a first round threat to the Patriots.

That threat is something that head coach Butch Austin and his players are well aware of.

“They have a good program,” Austin said.

“I watched them against Bessemer last weekend and they can do everything a good team can do. They are just solid.”

The coach continued by comparing the Wildcats to a team PLAS is very familiar with in Lee-Scott.

“Their pitchers do a good job of throwing inside-out and outside in,” Austin said.

“We are going to have to ready to play. I think it would be easy for us to look over Wilcox but I don’t think we are going to take them lightly. We are going to be ready to play.”

On the mound for the Patriots will be its top two starters in Sam Carroll and Lawson Stewart.

The two hurlers have a combined 16-1 record, to go along with 124 combined strikeouts in just over 99 innings pitched.

It will be Stewart with the ball in game one, with Carroll hoping to close out the series in the following game.

“I’m ready to go,” Stewart said.

“I am going to try and set the tone early on and get the job done. I’m pretty excited about pitching. Even though this is a playoff game, I don’t think there is too much pressure on me – I know what I got to do.”

On the opposite side of the games, PLAS will enter the postseason after one of its most productive regular seasons in the program’s history.

Leading the charge is Nick McLaughlin, whose 13 homers broke the school’s single season home run record.

The junior is also leading the team in RBIs, with 63, slugging percentage, 1.036, on base percentage, .664, and batting average, with .523.

A relative newcomer for the Patriots was Chandler Avant this season.

In his first year starting for PLAS, the team’s leadoff hitter finished with seven home runs, 43 RBIs, a .429 batting average and 22 stolen bases. Now, he and his teammates are hoping to continue the success shared in the regular season, into the playoffs.

“We have to play as a team,” Avant said. “Our focus has been good all week long.”

“We know we can’t over look (Wilcox), but we also know what it is going to take to win – and that’s solid play everywhere.”

The Patriots and the Wildcats will get underway at Butch Austin Field today, with a first pitch set for 4 p.m. Game two will follow immediately after wards.