By KAMARRI DARRINGTON
There were a lot of firsts for Elmore County baseball in 2019.
The Panthers earned their first winning season since 2012 and were in position to take a playoff spot in Class 4A Area 5.
Unfortunately, the Panthers were unable to make the necessary plays and settled for third in the area, one game out of playoff contention.
Monday’s season finale against Class 2A playoff-bound Horseshoe Bend was described as “bittersweet” by Panthers coach Michael Byrd.
Byrd sent senior Austin Downey to the mound on three days’ rest, and he delivered.
Downey struck out seven batters in a complete game, allowing just two hits in a 3-0 win for Elmore County over Horseshoe Bend.
The Panthers (19-7), who posted a 3-24 record two seasons ago, finished the 2019 campaign on a five-game winning streak but will have to wait until next spring to extend it.
“I thought we really were playing our best baseball at the right time,” Byrd said. “We’ve been swinging the bats very well and Austin was great today. I was glad to see him throw. It was nice to end the season with a win and play a complete game as well.”
Elmore County scored 64 runs in its previous four games, but it didn’t need much Monday as Downey kept putting zeroes on the board.
The scoring started in the third as Trey Brown’s RBI single scored Chase Wilson all the way from first base to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead.
In the fourth, Garrett Cole and Brody Ward posted back-to-back hits with two out. Ward was caught at second following a rundown but avoided the out long enough to allow Cole to score the second run.
Wilson started the fifth inning rally with a single, then Trey Brown hit an RBI double for the game’s final run as Elmore County left the bases loaded.
Downey allowed only two baserunners for Horseshoe Bend (9-12) after the second inning, both of whom reached scoring position.
In the fourth, Grant Taylor doubled with one out then was caught trying to come home after a Lee Norrell groundout for a double play.
In the seventh, Cole Johnson led off with a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Downey struck Taylor, forced a flyout by Norrell and struck out Holt Tidwell to end the game.
“I just wanted to dominate today,” Downey said. “I felt good going in and everything just worked for us. We finished the season strong. It’s big for the younger guys, because they’ve seen that what we can do. I’m glad we got to play this game today.”
After a 12-0 loss to Dadeville last Friday, Generals coach Jason Johnson said he wanted to see his team compete harder in their regular-season finale.
Cole Johnson started the game on the mound and allowed a run. Norrell pitched in relief, allowing two runs on five hits. Tidwell allowed a hit in the sixth.
Horseshoe Bend, which finished the regular season losing six of their last nine games, will visit Thorsby in the first round of the Class 2A playoffs Thursday.