Panthers look to keep playoff momentum going

By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY | News-Telegram Sports Editor

May 23, 2007 - North Hopkins has two playoff series behind them, but the future looks much the same.

After winning a pair of series that he says could have gone either way, NH head baseball coach Brian Bymaster said the Panthers face another team they compare favorably to this weekend.

North Hopkins will face the Lovelady Lions in a best-of-three Class A, Region II semifinal series starting at 7 p.m. Thursday at Brook Hill School in Bullard. The series will conclude Friday with Game 2 at 5 p.m. and Game 3 to follow, if necessary, both at Brook Hill.

North Hopkins is coming off a series win against Maud, while Lovelady beat Groveton.

"I think we match up with them really well," Bymaster said. "Outside of Carlisle, who I've heard is really good, I think the rest of the teams left in the region are pretty evenly matched."

Lovelady pitchers all throw a lot of off-speed pitches and the Lions' line-up isn't packed with a lot of power. But, they put the ball in play and have been solid defensively.

"If we play like we have the last couple of weeks defensively and get key hits when we need them, then we'll have a good shot," Bymaster said. "This series, like the others we played, could go either way. We have to hope things keep working in our favor."

Unlike the previous series, this week the Panthers will play on back-to-back days. That means that ace Bradley Ball won't be able to go two complete games, but Bymaster said he isn't concerned.

"We've kind of relied on Ball on the mound," he said. "But, we're pretty deep pitching-wise. If we get in a bind, we've got guys who we can go to."

Those players include A.D. Ramirez, Dustin Clements, Joe Smiddy and Jy'Darius Hawkins.

If they win the series, the Panthers would meet the winner between Price Carlisle and Grapeland in the regional finals. But, first things first.

"The guys are really excited," Bymaster said. "They said a boys team from North Hopkins hasn't been this far in the playoffs in a long time. We're just trying to keep it going."

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