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Tigers split first two games with Fort Payne

Lew Gilliland
Fort Payne Times-Journal

FORT PAYNE — A big first inning and a timely return to health by Jackson Smith kept sixth-ranked Hartselle alive in the Class 5A state high school baseball playoffs.

Deacon Aldridge sparked a four-run first with a leadoff homer and the Tigers hung on for a 5-3 victory over Fort Payne in Game 2 of a best-of-three, opening-round series Friday night.

Fort Payne won the opener 8-7 in eight innings. Game 3 is Saturday afternoon at 3. The winner advances to face No. 4 Cullman next week. The Bearcats swept Madison County 3-1 and 10-2.

Smith, who had pitched just four innings this season after having a pin removed from his finger last week, worked five in Game 2 and picked up the win. He allowed four hits, two runs (none earned) and four walks and struck out three.

Sam Harris worked two hitless inning to earn the save. He allowed one run (unearned), walked one and struck out one.

Hartselle (32-18) took the nightcap despite committing five errors, including three in the seventh.

“We were very, very fortunate to win one game,” Tigers coach William Booth said. “Fort Payne is a very, very good team. We made about six or seven errors [on the night]. We didn’t do a lot of things real well.

“Jackson Smith pitched well for five innings.”

Aldridge led off the Hartselle first with a homer to left, and Brett Blackwood doubled one out later. Chris Brown drew a walk, and Kaleb Jones tripled in two with two out.

Jones scored on a wild pitch, giving the Tigers a 4-0 lead.

Fort Payne (25-12) cut the margin to 4-2 in the fifth.

Trey O’Daniel began the uprising with a bunt single and took second on a single to deep short by Patrick Ryan. Justin Garmany hit the ball back to Smith, who overthrew first, allowing O’Daniel to score, Ryan to take third and Garmany to reach second.

The Tigers had an opportunity to escape without any further damage, but with two out and the bases loaded, Hartselle’s catcher threw the ball away on a pickoff attempt to first, allowing Ryan to score.

Hartselle added an insurance run in the sixth. Austin Spangler doubled with one out, took third on a wild pitch and scored on a boot by Fort Payne’s second baseman.

The Tigers made things interesting by committing three errors in the seventh, but with runners on second and third and two out, Harris escaped the jam by inducing a pop up and picking up his only strikeout of the night.

Game 1: Fort Payne 8, Hartselle 7 (8)

Garmany singled home the winning run with two out in the eighth.

Fort Payne overcame deficits of 6-4 and 7-6. Alan Smith’s RBI double tied it at 7-all in the seventh.

Blackwood and Jones both finished 2-for-3 with a double for Harstelle. Blackwood drove in three. Colton Ord was 2-for-4.

Garmany picked up the win. He took over with runners on first and second and none out in the eighth and induced two fly outs before picking the runner off first.

Fort Payne scored four times in the first, but Harstelle answered with three in the third and two more in the fourth. The Cats scored twice in the bottom of the fourth.

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