FLORENCE — For Shoals Christian’s baseball team, it’s four to go for four in a row.
After Saturday night’s Class 1A quarterfinal sweep of South Lamar, the Flame are that many wins away from a fourth consecutive state title. Shoals Christian won the first game 6-0 behind a superior effort from ace left-hander Will Bishop and completed the sweep with a 12-4 decision over the Stallions in the nightcap.
The Flame (25-12) host Cedar Bluff in next week’s semifinals, with the winner earning a trip to the state finals. But careful not to book another trip to Montgomery just yet, Shoals Christian is following a familiar strategy that has yielded favorable results.
“We try not to get too focused on anything but the next pitch that’s in front of us,” coach Jason Anderson said. “We just want to win that next pitch.”
Against South Lamar, the Flame won a lot of those.
Bishop tossed a complete game shutout in the opener, striking out a season-high 14 while allowing one hit and walking three. Bishop’s outing probably should have been a no-hitter, but a bad break caused by Friday night’s storms left the field damp and caused Flame center fielder Tanner Bozeman to lose traction and slip while racing to position himself under a routine fly ball. The likely out turned into a triple for South Lamar’s Holden Fields.
But Bishop, relying on an overpowering fastball, struck out the next three hitters to escape the jam.
“Early on, I was just working my fastball, and they had trouble hitting it. I just rode that all the way through the game,” Bishop said. “I could put my fastball anywhere I wanted. Then, I’d mix in a curve and a change and come back with a fastball, and they just couldn’t catch up with it.”
The series opener was a pitcher’s duel between Bishop and South Lamar’s Dave Cole until Shoals Christian broke a scoreless game in the bottom of the fourth. Mitchell Boyd sparked the Flame’s scoring with a solo home run in the fourth inning, which was followed by a fifth inning that saw four more runs scored.
Tanner Traglia plated a run with a triple, while Christian Shipe and Walker Reaves had run-scoring doubles in the fifth inning. Boyd also drove in another run with a sacrifice fly. The Flame added one more in the sixth to bring the score to 6-0 when Shipe lifted a sacrifice fly to center.
Bishop, Traglia and Josh Vardaman each had two hits in the first game.
“Cooper Mevlin had a big bunt single to start things off in the fourth inning, and we just extended off that,” Anderson said. “I thought our guys did a good job of building off that. I really liked our approach at the plate near the end of the first game and early on in the second.”
South Lamar (19-11) failed to silence Shoals Christian’s big bats in the second game. The Flame scored six runs in the top of the second inning to build a 7-1 lead that was never threatened.
After Shipe — the winning pitcher in Game 2 — doubled home a run in the first inning, he delivered a two-run single in the second. Bishop also had a two-run single in the inning, and Reaves doubled home a run. Vardaman also had a run-scoring single. The Flame scored one run apiece in the third, fourth and sixth innings and added two more in the top of the seventh inning.
Shipe finished with three doubles and three RBIs, and leadoff hitter Bozeman had three singles. Vardaman and Bishop had two singles and two RBIs in the second game. Reaves also finished with two RBIs. Shipe allowed six hits and struck out six in earning the win.
For South Lamar, Dalton Pollard had two hits and one RBI. Zack Foster plated a run with a triple, and Kyle Aldridge doubled home a run. Dillon Trammel also brought in a run with a single for the Stallions.
Saturday’s series win marks the fourth time in as many years that Shoals Christian has eliminated South Lamar in the 1A postseason.
“We knew we were going to have to battle and fight,” Anderson said, “and I was pleased with our guys for doing that.”