Tigers' pitching has been strong
Justin Schuver, Sports Editor
If pitching wins championships, the Tigers are as set as any team in the state to make a serious run at Montgomery.
Hartselle used four pitchers Saturday afternoon in its sweep of Homewood and each did his part to help the Tigers advance to the state's Final Four.
Senior Keith McCaghren struggled at times in Game 1, but managed to get the key out when he needed to do so. Junior Will Rankin came into the fifth inning with Hartselle leading just 5-3 and Homewood runners on first and second with one out, only to strike out the next two Patriot batters to end the threat.
And freshman Luke Bole and sophomore J.C. Bates were close to dominant in Game 2, combining for a three-hit, two-run gem and out-dueling one of the toughest pitchers in the state.
At the start of the season, Hartselle coach William Booth was skeptical at times that his pitching staff could get the job done, especially after injuries to seniors Jacob Wray and Cody Stisher severely hampered the Tigers' rotation.
But youngsters like Bole and Bates have filled the void admirably. Bates was 9-3 in the regular season and Bole led the team with an ERA of 1.89 while throwing over 55 innings. Even more importantly, they have shown little sign of nervousness in the playoffs.
Bole's resolve showed in a big way in the third inning of Game 2, where he walked Patrick White and allowed a single to Brad Wilson to lead off the inning.
The next batter, John Murray, hit a weak groundball that Jordan Parker tried to field. But the third baseman lost his footing in grass that was still damp from rains the night before, and all the runners were safe.
At this point, most young pitchers would have panicked and made a mistake pitch to throw the game away. But Bole stayed solid under pressure, and after allowing a weak RBI bloop single to Austin Hubbard he managed a big double play to minimize the damage in what could have been a devastating inning.
"You can't get nervous with this defense in the field," Bole said with the calmness and resolve of a wily veteran rather than a green rookie. "These guys are almost perfect."
Bole and other pitchers come up from junior varsity and junior high ball and seem to fit into the Hartselle line-up and rotation seamlessly. That's a testament to the job done by William Booth and his staff, as well as the fine youth baseball programs that prepare future Tigers from a young age.
It shows the tradition and character of a Hartselle program that for the past 20 years has been nearly without parallel in the state of Alabama. And it also shows the character of this year's Hartselle team, especially the pitching staff, which lacks a dominating star but features several throwers who have the ability to be productive at any time and in any situation.
That depth is a feature that few teams in the state can boast, and it is an asset that has already paid dividends in the playoffs and hopefully will continue to be a strength this weekend.
Against Cullman and its powerful offense, it will need to be.