Patriots and Purple Cats set for quarterfinal clash

Published 9:41 am Tuesday, May 2, 2023

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Class 2A’s No. 10-ranked Pike Liberal Arts Patriots (23-10) will face off against the No. 8-ranked Ariton Purple Cats (25-10) on Wednesday in the third round of the 2A State Playoffs.

Ariton comes into the matchup with Pike after sweeping Reeltown in the first round and sweeping Clarke County in the second round. Pike defeated Cottonwood 2-1 in the first round and bested No. 1-ranked Bayshore Christian 2-1 last week.

“I thought we competed well against Bayshore,” PLAS Coach Will Austin said. “They were a good team and we had a chance in that second game coming back on them and fell a little short. In game three, we competed well and things went our way.”

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Senior KC Bradford was nearly unstoppable against Bayshore, earning a .727 batting average with a double, a grand slam home run, 10 RBIs and four runs in the series. He also pitched five innings and struck out four batters, while giving up three hits and no runs along with earning two double plays in the infield.

“KC has been a good leader for us all year,” Austin said. “He hustles and does all the little things right and that’s all you can ask for out of a senior.”

Ariton gets production out of its entire lineup but junior Caden Collier and senior Phenix Griffin have been stellar for the Purple Cats in the postseason. In four games, Collier has a .467 batting average with four doubles, four RBIs and seven runs in Ariton’s two series sweeps. Griffin has pitched a total of 10 innings and struck out 15 batters, while giving up just three total hits and no runs in the playoffs. At the plate Griffin also has a home run, six RBIs and three runs.

“They are a very good baseball team,” Austin said of Ariton. “They hit the ball well, play good defense and pitch it well, too. They’re playing very good baseball right now. We have to come and play really well to beat these guys.”

Ariton and Pike Lib are no strangers to one another this season, having played twice in the regular season with the Patriots winning both contests. After beating Ariton 6-2 on March 6, the Patriots erased a 10-1 deficit on March 13, scoring 12 runs in the sixth inning, to win 13-12. Austin is also no stranger to Ariton himself as he spent the previous three seasons as an assistant coach with the Purple Cats before coming to Pike Lib.

“I know a lot of those kids, I coached down there for three years,” he said. “They are good kids and they play hard and play the game the right way. It’ll be unique to go down there and coach against those guys. They have a really good group.”

Ariton has made it to the 2A State Semifinals in each of the last two seasons and a series win this week would make it three years in a row. Meanwhile, PLAS hopes to earn a Final Four birth in its first season as a part of the AHSAA.

“All through the playoffs we’ve said – and we preached it all year – that you have to do the little things right. You have to make the routine plays,” Austin emphasized. “We have to work ahead in our pitching, make those routine plays and offensively, we have to make the hits when we need them. You have to make the right plays.”

Pike Lib and Ariton meet at Thad Dansby Field in Ariton on May 3 with a doubleheader beginning at 4 p.m. If a game three is needed, the two sides will meet again at 4 p.m. on May 4 in Ariton.