Bradford's two-run home run eliminates Gardendale in Game 3
Justin Schuver, Hartselle Enquirer
GARDENDALE – The dugouts at Gardendale High School's baseball diamond have guardrails in front of them. But not even the Great Wall of China would have prevented the Tigers from rushing the field Saturday afternoon.
Jake Bradford's two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning lifted No. 6 Hartselle to a come-from-behind 4-3 victory in game three of the Tigers' second-round series against Garden-dale. It also lifted Hartselle into the third round of the playoffs at home this weekend against No. 9 Homewood.
"It was a hanging curveball, and I just did what I could with it," Bradford said of the 0-2 pitch that he sent over the left field wall.
Rockets starting pitcher Tyler Pogue could only hang his head in disbelief as Bradford rounded the bases and met the entire Hartselle team at home plate for a raucous celebration. The dramatic victory capped off a best-of-three series that was full of excitement, controversy and frustration.
"That was just an unbelievable series," Booth said. "One of the best I've been a part of. It came down to whoever would make the big play, and Jake made the big play for us in the end."
The Tigers opened the series with a methodical 6-2 win that included a two-run Jordan Parker home run. Game 2 went into extra innings before Gardendale pulled out a 5-4 win after scoring an unearned run in the top of the eighth. And in Game 3, Hartselle found itself down 3-1 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning.
The Tigers loaded the bases with one out in the sixth, but could score only one run on a Parker groundout that brought home Quinn Dunlap. The lack of clutch hitting was a trend all weekend for Hartselle, which left 10 runners on base in both games two and three.
"We didn't hit in the clutch well all weekend," Booth said, before adding with a smile, "But that last hit we had was pretty clutch."
Down 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh, McCaghren led off with a flyout and Daxton Maze followed with a walk. Bradford, who came into his final at-bat 0-for-3 on the day and just 1-for-8 in the series, saw two straight strikes before Pogue made a mistake and Hartselle's senior designated hitter made the pitcher pay.
Joe McClanahan's solo home run in the bottom of the third tied the game at 1-all but Gardendale rallied with a run in the top of the fifth and the top of the sixth innings. The Rockets' scored both runs in the same fashion – Gardendale's first batter of each inning got on base, moved over to second, then came home to score on an RBI hit.
Gardendale had at least one runner reach base every inning, but the Rockets also hit into four double plays. David Roberts led off the seventh inning with a double, but McCaghren retired the next three batters to strand Roberts and set the table for Bradford's heroics.
"A couple of times we could have used a hit or made a pitch and we just didn't do that enough today," Gardendale coach Barry Brake said. "I felt like we were going to have to put a few more runs on the board than we did to have a chance to win today.
"Give Hartselle credit, though. They've got quality kids and a great program and they believe they can win games like this."
Hartselle 4 (8 innings)
A pair of errors proved costly for Hartselle as the Rockets' evened their best-of-three series at one game apiece late Friday night.
Gardendale's Jonathan Lankford reached on an error to lead off the top of the eighth inning, then moved over to third on another Hartselle error before coming home to score on a wild pitch. Burnan Moman pitched all eight innings to get the win, inducing Tyler Young into a groundout to end the game with Hartselle runners on first and second.
"They played better than we did and deserved to win," Booth said. "We've got to get back in the groove I hope by tomorrow."
Despite being down 4-3 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, Hartselle had an excellent chance to win the game after loading the bases with nobody out. But the Tigers could only manage one run to tie the game at 4-all before losing it in extra innings.
Hartselle led off the inning with singles by Justin Hargett and Parker and a walk by McClanahan to load the bases with nobody out. McCaghren followed with a strikeout, but Daxton Maze managed to bring home the tying run with an RBI groundout. Moman intentionally walked Bradford to re-load the bases but Dunlap ended the threat with a groundout.
"When we loaded the bases there with nobody out and could only score the one run, that was what killed us," Booth said. "I thought we were going to come back and win the game all the way, but we just didn't have what it took."
Gardendale scored a run in the second to take an initial 1-0 lead but the Tigers battled right back in the bottom of the inning to move in front 2-1. Bradford led off with a double and Young, pinch running for Bradford, came home to score on Dunlap's RBI bunt single. Dunlap eventually scored on an RBI single by Parker.
The Rockets scored three runs in the fourth and Hartselle scored one in the same inning after Josh Aycox led off with a walk and came home to score on an error.
Jordan Parker hit a two-run home run in the top of the seventh to give Hartselle some breathing room as it won Game 1.
The Tigers scored a run in the first on a sacrifice fly by Maze that scored Parker. Hartselle added another run in the second on an RBI double by Hargett that scored Aycox.
Hartselle scored a run in the fifth and sixth innings as well, with Parker scoring on an RBI single by McClanahan in the fifth and McCaghren scoring on a sacrifice fly by Dunlap in the sixth.
Will Rankin pitched the first five innings for the Tigers and left with Hartselle leading 3-2. J.C. Bates pitched the final two innings.