PLAS looking to make another playoff run

Published 11:26 pm Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Pike Liberal Arts School's Chandler Avant (6), left, congratulates Dalton Harris (16) after Harris scored during a baseball game in Troy, Ala., Tuesday, April 10, 2012. (Messenger Staff Photo/Thomas Graning)

Pike Liberal Arts has felt its share of disappointment the past two seasons. Losing the state championship in consecutive years is a tough pill to swallow but ask the players on this season’s team and they will tell you things could be different this year.

“If we get back to the championship, I think we have a good chance,” designated hitter Reid Dickey said. “I think this could be the year.”

The Patriots have been on a fierce pace on their way to back the Alabama Independent School Association postseason posting a 25-5 record setting themselves up for their third consecutive 30-win season.

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“We’ve had some good teams,” head coach Butch Austin said. “I think this is a good team. You can never tell this time of year though, anything can happen.”

Pike Liberal Arts is 90-13 over the past three seasons and have defeated every team in the eight-team Class AAA playoff field this year with the exception of Morgan Academy and the team Pike will host in the first round ¬– Bessemer Academy.

With the top-seed in Region 1, the Patriots are guaranteed home-field advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The AISA finals are held at Patterson Field in Montgomery.

Pike will turn to a pitching staff that has been stingy all season. The Patriots enter the playoffs with a 2.66 team ERA and the top four innings-eaters have a strikeout to walk ratio of 2.5-1.

“Our pitching has been pretty good this year,” Austin said. “I’ve tried to rest them the last few games so we should be fresh heading into the playoffs.”

Lawson Stewart has led the staff this season with a 7-1 record and a 1.75 ERA. Not far behind is Josh Starling, who has been used in both starting and relief roles this season. Starling leads the team in ERA and is second in strikeouts to Stewart.

Blake Floyd has played a large role on the mound, behind the plate, and at the plate. Floyd is considered a big-game pitcher for Pike, though his innings we limited due to his versatile role. On April 10, Floyd struck out 13 batters against region rival and two-time defending state champion Glenwood. On the season, the senior has struck out 23 batters in just 19 innings of work.

As a staff, the Patriots held opposing hitters to a .203 average during the regular season.

“We’ve got four or five pitchers that have been really good this year,” Austin said. “Anything can happen this time of year but if they do like they’ve been doing we’ll have a chance.”

Pike can also score runs in bunches. The Patriots are averaging eight runs per game this season with a .301 team average.

With a .416 average, senior Nick McLaughlin leads the team. McLaughlin has seen a drastic drop in his power numbers this season, hitting just three home runs after a 16-homer season a year ago.

“I think the new bats had some to do with it, but Nick isn’t getting very many pitches to hit,” Austin said.

The Patriots’ center fielder is second on the team with 16 walks but has also been hit 10 times.

McLaughlin isn’t the only one who has seen a decline in long-ball production. Pike hit 52 home runs as a team last year but has just 21 this season.

Stewart is hitting .398 for the Patriots, while Taytom Barnes leads the squad with five homers and 30 RBI.

Pike will kick off the first round today against Bessemer with a doubleheader scheduled for 4p.m.

The Messenger will broadcast Live Stats of both games. Visit for more information.