Etowah sweeps Hartselle out of 2nd round with pair of 1-run victories
Justin Schuver, Hartselle Enquirer
There is an old adage in baseball that if you watch the game long enough, eventually you'll see something you've never seen before. Unfortunately for Hartselle fans, that was the case Friday evening at Ruben Sims Field at Sparkman Park.
Etowah's Blake Bailey scored the game-winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning to give his team a 7-6 victory and complete a sweep for the Blue Devils, who won the opener 5-4. It was how Bailey scored that was so unusual.
With the bases loaded and two outs, Hartselle pitcher Chad Girodo appeared to have gotten out of the jam when he struck out Etowah's Shane Ledbetter. But the home plate umpire ruled Hartselle catcher Jake Bradford had dropped the third strike and Bailey, who was on third base, came home to score as Ledbetter reached first safely.
"I could see the ball on the ground after Shane struck out, so I started running home and was yelling for (Shane) to get to first," Bailey said.
There was confusion on the field, since the Tigers were already heading back to the dugout after believing they had gotten out of the inning unscathed. By the time anyone realized what had happened, Bradford could not get back to either tag home plate or throw out Ledbetter at first.
"(Jake) thought he had caught the ball," Hartselle coach William Booth said. "Maybe we should have appealed to the umpire, but my catcher thought he had the ball off the strikeout and there was no need to throw it (down to first). It's very disappointing – we had two hard losses today; very hard. There's not much else to say."
Hartselle's season ended at 25-23 while Etowah (25-13) advanced to face Russellville in the Class 5A quarterfinals.
Game 2: Etowah 7, Hartselle 6 (8 innings)
Etowah's come-from-behind win in the deciding game was all the more heartbreaking because the Tigers held a big lead late and couldn't hold on.
Hartselle led 6-2 before the Blue Devils scored two runs in the bottom of the sixth and seventh innings to send the game into extra innings. The Tigers had several chances to increase their lead late but couldn't capitalize. Perhaps the best opportunity came in the top of the sixth inning, when Hartselle had runners on first and second with one out but could not score.
"We really had a chance to knock (Etowah) out in that second game a few times and we just couldn't do it," Booth said. "All year long, it seemed like we just had a tough time getting that big hit when we needed it and it cost us in this series."
Will Rankin pitched the first seven innings, allowing seven hits and striking out six before giving way to Girodo in the eighth. The Hartselle sophomore ran into trouble early, loading the bases with nobody out.
But Girodo bounced back, striking out Myles Cordell with one out and then getting David Jester to ground out to third, where Tony Weaver threw to Bradford to force out a runner at home. Girodo followed with his strikeout of Ledbetter, but ended up taking the loss.
"I've never been in a game that had an ending like that," Etowah coach Jeff Colegrove said. "Coach Booth and I are close friends and we keep up with each others' teams, so I knew that Hartselle would be a tough opponent. They're well coached and they have great pitching and we were fortunate to win both of these games tonight."
Quinn Dunlap scored three runs and Hargett, Ethan Widener and Luke Bole each scored once. Hargett was 3-for-5 with two RBIs, Bradford had one RBI and both Murphy and Bradford were 2-for-4.
Hartselle took a 1-0 lead when Dunlap scored on a throwing error after leading off the game with a walk. Etowah scored a run of its own in the bottom of the first when Cayleb Coker reached base on a walk and came home to score on an error.
The Tigers scored three runs in the third inning to take the lead back. Hargett scored on an error, Widener came home on a wild pitch and Bole scored on Bradford's RBI single. The Tigers had a chance to get more runs with runners on first and third with one out, but Etowah starter Matt Frasier induced a double play.
The Devils added a run in the fourth inning when Cordell led off with a double and scored on Ledbetter's groundout. Dunlap scored Hartselle's final two runs, once in the fourth and once in the sixth. Hargett drove him in both times.
Down 6-2, Etowah rallied when Josh Vest hit a two-run single in the sixth inning and had a chance for more after loading the bases with two outs. Coker hit the ball hard up the middle, but Hargett made a phenomenal diving catch to spear the line drive and rob Etowah of at least a run.
The Devils tied it in the seventh on a solo home run by Cordell – his second of the series – and a two-out RBI single by Taylor Keener. Hartselle did not do much in the top of the eighth, with Widener's two-out single the only offense the Tigers could muster.
Game 1: Etowah 5, Hartselle 4
The Tigers' opener of the series had its own disappointing finish for Hartselle fans. Hartselle rallied from a 5-0 deficit with four runs in the bottom of the sixth, but still came up short of a win.
Etowah scored two runs in the fourth inning and blew the game open when Cordell hit a three-run home run with two outs in the fifth.
The Tigers' bats came alive in the bottom of the fifth inning, scoring all four runs with two outs. Hargett led off the inning with a walk and Widener followed with a sharp single to left field. Bole walked to load the bases and Ryder Brasher hit a single with two outs to score Hargett and Widener.
Josh Aycox followed with a single to score Bole, and Dunlap walked to reload the bases. Tony Weaver was hit by a pitch, scoring Josh Slaten who was pinch running for Brasher. Etowah replaced starting pitcher Coker with Cody Jackson, who got Hargett to ground out and end the Tiger rally.
In the seventh inning, Hartselle loaded the bases with two outs but could not score as Jackson struck out the final batter he faced.
"It was just a tough series," Booth said. "I really thought we battled in both games, they just made a few more plays than we did."
J.C. Bates pitched all seven innings for Hartselle, allowing eight hits and striking out four. Widener was the only Tiger with multiple hits, finishing 2-for-4.