Hargett's grand slam helps send Hartselle into Final Four
Justin Schuver, Hartselle Enquirer
A Justin Hargett grand slam in Game 1 and a masterful performance by two underclassman pitchers in Game 2 highlighted the Tigers' sweep of Homewood in the third round of the Class 5A playoffs Saturday at Reuben Sims Field.
Hartselle moved past Homewood 7-5 and 5-2, advancing to the state semifinals for the fourth time in the last six years. The Tigers will face familiar foe Cullman in a best-of-three series at Ruben Sims Field Friday. The Bearcats swept their third round opponent Huntsville 15-4 and 10-0.
Freshman Luke Bole out-dueled Homewood's senior ace Austin Hubbard, finishing the sweep of Homewood with a masterful performance where he allowed just three hits and one earned run in five innings. Sophomore J.C. Bates pitched the final two innings and did not allow a Patriot to reach base.
"I just threw strikes and tried to get people out," Bole said. "I knew the players behind me would back me up. Our outfielders and hitters were great today, and my infield defense played awesome."
Hubbard, who entered the game with a 9-1 record and an ERA under 1.00 and earlier this season committed to Auburn, was touched up for six hits and five earned runs by Hartselle hitters.
Keith McCaghren's fourth-inning two-run home run tied the game and Joe McClanahan's RBI double in the sixth inning was the game winner. Both hits came against Hubbard's fastball, which has been clocked in the lower 90 mile-per-hour range.
"We tried to tell them to take his off-speed stuff and look for the fastball," Booth said of his team's strategy against Hubbard. "We couldn't hit his off-speed stuff, it's just too good, but we were able to get around on his fastball a few times."
Homewood took an initial 2-0 lead in the game, taking advantage of a walk, single and Hartselle error to load the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the third inning.
Bole allowed a single to Hubbard that scored the first run, then got Sam Berry to ground into a double play. A run scored on the groundout, but Bole closed out the inning by striking out William Black to end the inning with no further damage.
It did not take Hartselle long to respond. Daxton Maze hit a one-out single in the top of the fourth inning, then came home to score on McCaghren's blast over the right-center field wall. The Tigers added two more runs in the sixth inning, with Jordan Parker getting things started with a lead-off double and scoring one hit later on McClanahan's RBI double.
McClanahan was replaced by pinch runner Tony Weaver, who moved to third on Maze's sacrifice bunt and came home to score on a passed ball. Hartselle added an insurance run in the seventh, when Quinn Dunlap came home to score on Josh Aycox's RBI single with one out. Dunlap led off with a walk, moved to second on a passed ball and advanced to third on a Nathan Kimbrell sacrifice bunt before scoring.
"Austin missed a few location spots and that really hurt us," Homewood coach Doug Gann said. "This is a small ballpark and if you get one up you can knock it out of here. We made some mistakes and (Hartselle) hit them, but that's what you're supposed to do with mistake pitches."
Hargett's grand slam in the bottom of the second inning gave Hartselle an early lead, but Homewood would not go quietly.
The Patriots touched up Hartselle pitching for 12 hits but left 12 men on base as Tigers' pitchers Keith McCaghren and Will Rankin pitched out of jam after jam.
"We were very fortunate to get out of this game with a win," Booth said. "We got them out somehow, even though it seemed like every inning they had runners in scoring position. (Hargett's) big hit early really gave us a boost because we weren't able to do much offensively at all."
The Tigers led 5-0 after the second inning when Hargett's shot to right field scored Dunlap, Kimbrell and Aycox. Earlier in the inning, McCaghren reached on a single, stole second, and came home to score on an RBI single by Dunlap.
Homewood responded with a run in the second and third innings to cut the lead to 5-2, but Hartselle added a run in the fourth when Dunlap reached on a single and eventually scored on an RBI groundout by Parker.
The Patriots scored again in the top of the fifth inning but Hartselle came right back when McCaghren led off with a single and scored on an RBI double by Jake Bradford.
Homewood managed three straight hits off Rankin to score a run in the sixth inning, then followed that up with an RBI double by William Black to make the score 7-5 with the tying run at the plate. Rankin battled out of the one-out jam, striking out Brannon Polk and inducing a groundout from Matthew Reebals to end the threat.