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CLASS 3A STATE CHAMPIONS: Phil Campbell captures first-ever baseball state championship

The seniors on Phil Campbell High School’s baseball team started on a journey as T-ballers a decade ago with one goal in mind – to win the state baseball championship. No wonder – their high school baseball coach, Jonathan Raper, was with them every step of the way.

Friday, the Bobcats clawed from a 4-0 deficit to beat Bayside Academy 7-6 in game two of the AHSAA 2021 Class 3A State Baseball Championship series at Riverwalk Stadium to complete that journey and achieve their long-held goal.

“My son Ridge is one of those seniors,” said Raper. “These seniors have really stayed together, kept their focus and remained dedicated to each other every step of the journey.

“We’ve been together for a long time. Most of us have played together and grown up together. People don’t realize how many hours these guys put into this game. They are constantly working together to get better.  They have great team chemistry. One player might have a bad day, but the other eight are going to pick them up.”

The championship is the first AHSAA baseball crown in the Franklin County school’s history. It is also the first school’s first AHSAA-sanctioned championship since the boys basketball team beat Scottsboro in 1947.

“We have had great community support, and it is just a great thing for our school and our community,” said Raper. “They have backed us 100 percent.  Our student section has been phenomenal all the way through this thing.”

Phil Campbell (40-5) won game one of the best-of-three series Thursday night at Paterson Field 5-0.

The journey hit a major bump Friday morning at Riverwalk, however, when Bayside Academy (27-9) came out swinging and scored four runs in the top of the first inning.

Josh Gunther got things started with a one-out single off Bobcats’ starting pitcher Luke Barnwell. The Admirals’ Collins Terry added a two-out single, and Brodie Swindall followed with a single and RBI. Cade Morris singled and Jake Devalk delivered a double to drive in two runs.

Phil Campbell struck back quickly in the bottom of the first, with Austin Baker doubling in a run and scoring two batters later on a wild pitch.

Leading 4-3 in the top of the third, Devalk ripped a two-run homer to extend the lead for the Admirals to 6-3. Again, however, the Bobcats answered quickly with three runs of their own in the bottom of the inning to tie the game at 6-6.

Ridge Raper drilled a double to start the rally, and Trey Leindecker doubled down the third-base line to drive in two runs.

“It was a little wild. We got behind, but we’ve been there before,” said Raper. “We’ve got some good kids who can hit. Our slogan is ‘Battle, Battle.’

“We did a good job of not panicking,” Raper added. “We kept battling ’til we got the job done. These guys are battle-tested.”

Phil Campbell brought Levi Crittenden to the mound in the third inning to get out of that jam, and the senior went the rest of the way allowing two hits, one walk and no runs over the final 4 1/3 innings to get the win.

It was his first pitching appearance since early March, said Raper.

“I was excited,” said Crittenden. “I just came in to do my job: throw strikes and let the defense do its job.”

Mason Swinney, who fired a four-hit shutout in the game one 5-0 win Thursday, drew a bases-loaded walk in that frame to drive in the winning run. He was named the 3A Series MVP.

“It was fun. It was a dream come true,” said Swinney, who recently committed to play at the University of Alabama. “We knew we had the players to get it done.”

Bayside outhit the Bobcats 10-5 but walked nine and hit one. Phil Campbell also committed no errors.

“We had not made an error in the playoffs until last week,” said Raper. “We shook it off and came back and were ready to play again.”

Crittenden credited the team’s focus on getting to the finish line.

“We never thought about the next series,” he said. “We always stayed focused on the game we were about to play.”

Raper also pointed out how scheduling played a role in the team’s success.

“Out of the 45 games we played this year, I think we might have played two bad games where we just didn’t show up,” he said. “That’s special. We lost to some very good teams and played a tough schedule. I think it prepared us to overcome some of the adversity.”

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