Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer|
Before Friday’s state playoff game, Hartselle assistant coach Nick Smith sets fire to bats in left field to motivate the team to “smoke” the ball out of the ballpark.
falls in second round
By Brooke Milam
Bmilam@decaturdaily.com · 340-2460
HARTSELLE — Amid noticeable confusion on the field, the Hartselle High Tigers essentially watched Etowah's Blake Bailey walk across home plate, ending the Tigers' season in the second round of the Class 5A state baseball playoffs.
Bailey's run completed a sweep for Etowah, beating Hartselle 5-4 and 7-6 in the best-of-three series Friday at Sparkman Park.
Etowah (25-13) advanced to the quarterfinals and will play the winner of Gardendale and Russellville, who split Friday.
"There's not much to say," said Hartselle coach William Booth, who saw his team's season end at 25-23. "It's very disappointing. Two hard loses — not one, but two. Very hard."
It appeared the Hartselle pitching battery of sophomore hurler Chad Girodo and senior catcher Jake Bradford had gotten the Tigers out of a bind in the bottom half of extra eighth-inning play.
Girodo zipped a third strike past Shane Ledbetter, but the umpire ruled that Bradford fumbled the catch and needed either to tag the batter or touch home plate to end the Blue Devils rally. Bailey scored from third base on the play.
"My catcher thought he caught the ball," Booth said. "Jake thought he caught it. Everybody did. So there was no need for him to have to get that last guy out."
Girodo had struck out main threat Myles Cordell to begin the inning, before Bradford delivered a play at the plate for the second out. With bases loaded, third baseman Tony Weaver had fielded a grounder and threw to Bradford for the force out.
Etowah was batting last despite Hartselle's home-field advantage, after the Tigers served as the home team in the first contest of the night.
And while Booth said the Tigers had fought hard in both games, he added that there was more to the night than that last play.
"We had a hard time getting clutch hits," Booth said.
After dropping the first contest by one run, Hartselle came back inspired in the second game and had built a 5-1 lead by the fourth inning.
Quinn Dunlap scored the first run on a throwing error in the opening inning.
After Etowah tied the score 1-1 in the bottom of the second, Hartselle posted three runs in the third.
Justin Hargett scored on another Etowah throwing error, putting Hartselle back on top 2-1.
Ethan Widener then came home on a passed ball, and a single by Bradford scored Luke Bole.
Hargett drove in Dunlap in the fourth.
The Blue Devils trimmed Hartselle's lead to 5-2 in the bottom of the fourth, but Hartselle answered with its final run in the sixth when a Hargett double plated Dunlap. The Tigers appeared in control at that point.
Etowah's Josh Vest knocked in two runs, cutting Hartselle's lead to 6-4, before a spectacular diving catch by Hargett at shortstop ended the Blue Devils' surge.
Cordell hit a solo home run in the seventh, and Taylor Keener drove in the game-tying run to send the game into extra innings.
"I thought we had it won several times, but it just kept slipping away from us," Booth said.
The first game was much the same, with the Tigers putting up a fight, but not icing the victory.
After three scoreless innings, Etowah scored when an errant throw by the Tigers to second base sailed into the outfield.
Etowah tacked on another run on a solid hit to short centerfield by Zach Gilliland, plating Cordell for a 2-0 Blue Devils' lead.
A three-run home run by Cordell in the fifth put Etowah ahead 5-0.
Hartselle's bats came alive in the sixth when Ryder Brasher drove in Hargett and Widener for the Tigers' first two runs.
Josh Aycox's single drove in Bole, and Weaver was hit by pitch, scoring Josh Slaten, pulling Hartselle within a run at 5-4.
But the Tigers came no closer, leaving the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh.
Hartselle's J.C. Bates pitched the first game, striking out three batters and working seven innings.
Senior Will Rankin got the start for the Tigers in the second game, striking out six in seven innings.
Girodo pitched the final inning and struck out two.
"It's difficult," Booth said. "I felt like we fought back, but they just made more plays than we did.
"We got some hits, but we just couldn't get those clutch hits and the right time. ... That's really all there is to say."
State baseball playoffs
Results from the second round of the state baseball playoffs Friday. All series are best-of-three, and if a third game is necessary, it will be Saturday.
Decatur Heritage 17-4, Cedar Bluff 10-6 (Saturday, 10 a.m.)
Athens Bible 6-12, Gaston 1-4 (Athens Biblesweeps)
West Morgan 8-9, Fyffe 5-4 (West Morgan sweeps)
Hatton 7-2, Westbrook Christian 5-13 (Saturday, 4 p.m.)
Addison 4-6, Mars Hill 6-5 (Saturday, 7 p.m.)
Danville 13-5, Holly Pond 10-4 (Danville sweeps)
Lawrence County 1-4, Boaz 0-7 (Saturday, 3 p.m.)
Etowah 5-7, Hartselle 4-6 (Etowah sweeps)
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