By Chris McCarthy
The Hokes Bluff High baseball team solidified its standing as the state’s top-ranked team last Friday (Apr. 28), as the Eagles qualified for the Class 4A quarterfinals with a 5-3, 8-2 sweep over Etowah County neighbor Sardis in Sardis City.
Hokes Bluff (23-5) travels to Haleyville this Friday (May 5) for a best-of-three series.
Quality pitching was a big reason for the Eagles’ second-round win.
Game 1 starter Dylan Teague held the hosts to six hits and three runs along with three walks. Weston Ball came on in relief in the bottom of the seventh and escaped a two-out, bases-loaded jam.
Jace Stewart went the distance in the second game, allowing three hits, two runs and two walks while striking out nine. Stewart shut out the Lions (20-14) until the sixth inning, by which time the visitors were ahead 5-0.
“These two lefties (Teague and Stewart) throw strikes, and they had some pretty good defense behind them (the Eagles did not commit any fielding errors),” said Hokes Bluff ehad coach Mike Robertson. “Plus, (catcher) Houston Edwards has completely shut down the other teams’ running game (in the playoffs). He threw out three runners tonight and did a great job of not letting balls get past him.”
Robertson pointed to the fact that the Eagles more often than not produced at the plate with two outs against Sardis.
“That kind of broke their hearts. But [Sardis] had a heck of a year and Coach [Zach] Gilliland does a super job. They probably played a tougher schedule than we did. To be truthful, I thought this [series] would go three games.”
In the opener, Hokes Bluff took a 1-0 lead when Kobe Addison’s RBI single plated Ball in the top of the second. Sardis starter Caleb Wofford kept the Eagles off the scoreboard over the next three innings, in the process stranding three base runners in scoring position.
The Lions went up 2-1 in the bottom of the fourth when a double by Kale Walker scored Mason Golden (running for Logan Gaskin) and John Holland.
That advantage was short-lived. Wofford’s outing ended after Stewart walked and Wyatt Watson singled him in to tie the game. Consecutive doubles from Addison and Edwards restored the Eagle lead at 4-2. Dylan Vest scored on an error later in the inning to make it 5-2.
Sardis drew within a run in the next inning when Braxton Brooks singled and scored on Walker’s base hit. In the top of the seventh, Sardis reliever Blake Wright recorded two quick outs before Hokes Bluff loaded the bases on a single, an error and a walk. But
Wright induced a fly-out to centerfield to diffuse the threat.
Wright led the off the bottom of the inning with a walk. Ball struck out the next batter and then got an infield groundout, but Wofford drew a walk and Gaskin singled to load the bases.
The Sardis rally ran out of steam in the next at-bat, however, as Carson Eubanks made a running catch in centerfield to end the game.
“Winning that first game (of a best-of-three series) is always important,” said Robertson. “I put Weston in a bad situation but he came through for us.”
For the series for Hokes Bluff, Watson and Ball each went 4-for-7 with two RBI and two runs scored. Fisher Simmons went 3-for-6 with an RBI and two runs scored, while Teague and Addison each had a hit, an RBI and a run scored.
“Timely hitting is something that comes and goes, and we didn’t have too much of that today,” said Sardis head coach Zach Gilliland. “Hokes Bluff is very well-coached and has a good ball club. They’ve been playing really good baseball of late, and unfortunately, we came up on the short end of the stick tonight.
“With good teams that hit as well as they do, you have to limit the damage, and we didn’t do that. You can’t give them extra baserunners, whether it’s with an error or a walk or a hit-by-pitch. That’s something we’ll have to work on going forward.”
Sardis Game 2 starter Ross Strickland limited the Eagles to two hits and one run over the first four innings before four Lion fielding errors paved the way for a five-run Eagle fifth.
“Taking advantage [of errors] is something we’ve been doing a better job of lately,” said Robertson. “We’re not striking out in those situations like we did earlier in the year.”
Strickland retired six of the first eight Eagle batters in the nightcap before Eubanks reach base and scored on a pair of fielding errors. Meanwhile, Stewart allowed a baserunner in each of the first four innings, but not one of those runners moved into scoring position.
Stewart was helped when Edwards nailed a pair of Sardis runners.
The bottom fell out for the Lions in the bottom of the fifth, when four fielding errors and a two-out double from Ball made it 5-0 in favor of the visitors. Simmons, Teague and Watson all had RBI singles in the sixth to push the Hokes Bluff lead to seven runs. Wright and Holland scored in the seventh before Stewart was able to finish his complete-game effort.
“We’re proud of these kids, because they’ve accomplished something this year that we haven’t in quite a while around here,” said
Gilliland. “It’s been seven or eight years since our baseball team won an area title or gotten out of the first round. Obviously we had bigger goals that we didn’t get accomplished, and it’s bittersweet for these seniors, because it’s not they that they wanted to go out.”
For Sardis, Walker went 3-for-4 with three RBI and a run scored, while Strickland went 2-for-4 with two RBI.
Robertson noted that his Eagles already have accomplished quite a bit this season.
“I’m so proud of this bunch, because they’ve come so far. We’ve only got two seniors, and we also lost our No. 1 pitcher. All we can do is play the best that we can, and these kids are doing that right now.”