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PHS boys to bout with Blacksher

Pleasant Home will hit the road Friday afternoon to play J.U. Blacksher in Uriah in the second round of the Class 1A state playoffs.

The Eagles (20-7) are coming off a first round sweep over Fruitdale, where they won 11-7 and 14-2.

J.U. Blacksher improved to 11-11 overall last week after the Bulldogs defeated McKenzie 21-1 and 24-4.

Both teams will play in a best-out-of-three games series. On Friday, the games will start at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. A Saturday game at 11 a.m. will be played if necessary.

Pleasant Home coach Bradley Stephens said it’s good to get past the first round of the playoffs after three years.

“It’s kind of like the boys have gotten the monkey off their backs,” he said. “Now, we’re just getting prepared for Blacksher.”

Don’t let J.U. Blacksher’s record be deceiving as the Bulldogs have played and beat schools that are ranked high in their classification.

J.U. Blacksher beat Ragland and Sweetwater when they were No. 1 and 2 at the time, respectively.

“I think if we don’t play well, then we’ll get embarrassed,” J.U. Blacksher coach Skip Bell said. “With us, it’s just sunshine or cloudy — whichever team shows up.”

When asked what his team needs to do to defeat the seventh-ranked Eagles, Bell said they will do what “any other baseball team would do.”

“We’re going to have to make sure we get the hits when we need the hits,” he said. “We’re going to have to do a good job of pitching and keep them off balance at the plate.”

This will be the first time Pleasant Home and J.U. Blacksher have played each other in a little under a decade in baseball.

Stephens said he isn’t “overlooking” what J.U. Blacksher can bring to the table.

“You can’t do that now because you can’t overlook anybody (in the playoffs),” Stephens said. “From everything I know about them is that they’re going to play good sound fundamental baseball.

“One thing I’m stressing to the boys is that we can’t make any mistakes in the field against this team,” he said. “Every hit we make is going to be earned. There isn’t going to be any of this ball running through the legs business.”

J.U. Blacksher’s baseball field is the same size as Pleasant Home’s at 325 feet down the baselines and 350 feet from home plate to the center field fence.

Stephens said that shouldn’t be a problem even though his team is playing on the road.

“The fields are kind of similar,” he said. “Ours is probably the deepest in the county. I don’t know about Opp’s — we haven’t played them, but the bag drops pretty tough.

“You can look at it two different ways,” he said. “One is us going to play at a facility that’s similar to ours and we should be used to it — should be.”

Bell calls his field “Wrigley Field South” because of the high winds that blow through the area, as it does for the Chicago Cubs.

“It’s a deep park and it gives the opportunity to gap one and pick up a double,” Bell said.

Another factor that might play to J.U. Blacksher’s advantage is its pitching staff with two who throw left-handed.

Stephens said Cottage Hill, who his team split with, is similar in regards to pitching.

“This year, we saw one with Cottage Hill and then we saw one with Kinston,” he said. “We hit him pretty well. We’ve got two left-handed hitters and they’ve got to know that the curve ball is coming back in towards us and just to wait on it a little bit.

“It just kind of changes things when it comes to base running,” he said. “Being able to pick up on that kind of stuff and if we do that, then we’ll be OK.”

Bell said he knows it’s going to be a good series against Pleasant Home.

“I think it’s going to be a good series and a competitive series,” he said. “I think we’re going to have to play as good as we’re going to play to have a chance to win. If they play as good as we can play and they play as good as they can play, then we’ll see what happens.”

Stephens said one thing he would like for his team to “mirror” from last week is the improved hitting.

“We started hitting and the defense came together,” he said. “I would like to consistently mirror that day in and day out without making any errors and hitting the baseball.

“We’re just looking to come to play,” he said. “We’ve had some pretty good practices this week. I feel like the boys are focused.”