Photo: Hokes Bluff’s Dalton Daughdrill prepares to throw to first base during the Eagles’ sweep over Leeds in the first round of the Class 4A state baseball playoffs on Friday (April 20). (Alex Chaney)
By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
Fourth-ranked Hokes Bluff has relied on its pitching and defense all season, and it carried the Eagles once again on Friday (April 20) in a sweep of Leeds in the first round of the Class 4A state baseball playoffs at Estes/Wright Field.
The hits were few and far between for the Eagles (21-5) in both games, but they knocked off the Green Wave, 3-1 in the opener and 5-2 in the second game to advance to the second round. Hokes Bluff visits Winfield for a best-of-three series starting on Friday, April 21.
Neither team earned a hit in the opening game until the fourth inning, but the hosts took advantage of a handful of Green Wave mistakes in the field in the second inning.
Jace Stewart walked with one out and Landon Johnson was hit by a pitch to give Hokes Bluff runners on first and second. A wild pitch sent Stewart to third and Johnson to second, and Drake Rainey brought Stewart home on an errant throw to give Hokes Bluff a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second.
In the top of the fourth, Leeds third baseman Zach Roberts blasted a home run to leftfield for the Green Wave’s first hit of the game to even the score at 1-1. But Hokes Bluff starting pitcher Dylan Teague responded by retiring the next two batters, and his teammates provided him with support at the plate in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Shortstop Weston Ball hit a one-out single to give the Eagles their first hit of the day, and Houston Edwards hit a single two batters later. With two outs, Stewart punched through a single to rightfield that scored Ball and pinch runner Ashton Gulledge to give Hokes Bluff a 3-1 advantage.
Teague pitched a complete game for the Eagles, striking out 10 while allowing only three hits, one run and three walks.
Hokes Bluff was the visiting team on the scoreboard for the second game and jumped out to an early lead over the Green Wave (19-11). Ball hit a one-out double and later advanced to third on a passed ball. Koby Addison knocked through an RBI single to score Ball and give the Eagles a 1-0 lead in the top of the first.
Freshman Payton Lemons started on the mound for the Eagles and he didn’t allow a hit in the first two innings. Leeds shortstop Alex St. John hit a home run to leftfield in the bottom of the third to tie the game at 1-1, but Lemons responded by tossing two more shutout innings.
In the top of the sixth, Jace Stewart hit a single to rightfield and reached third base on an error. Landon Johnson then hit a sacrifice fly to score Stewart, which gave the Eagles a 2-1 lead.
Drake Rainey hit a single and moved to second base on a passed ball. Teague was hit by a pitch, and Carson Eubanks reached first safely on an error to load the bases with two outs.
Ball’s second hit of the game couldn’t have happened at a better time for the Eagles. He hit a fly ball to rightfield and Leeds outfielder Rhondale Edward attempted to make a diving catch for the third and final out. However, the ball hit the ground inches from Edward’s glove and rolled past him. Three runs scored, and the Eagles took a 5-1 lead as Ball reached third base safely for a triple.
Leeds added a run in the bottom of the sixth inning to close the gap to 5-2, but Ball came on in relief of Lemons and struck out the side in the bottom of the seventh as the Eagles completed the sweep.
Lemons struck out six batters in five and two-third innings while allowing four hits, two runs and a walk.
“It’s like driving the length of the field (in football) and fumbling on the three-yard line,” said Hokes Bluff head coach Mike Robertson said of his team’s lack of hitting in the series. “We just couldn’t get a hit. I want to give Leeds and Coach (Jake) Wingo and their kids credit. They played hard and did a lot of good things. We started off sluggish at the plate and [Leeds] threw strikes, and when we hit it, they caught it. Baseball is so frustrating.
“Dylan pitched well, as did Peyton. We played well defensively. We made one error in 14 innings, which is pretty good in high school baseball.”
Robertson said he was proud of his team for never going into panic mode.
“I’m proud we advanced,” he said. “In the playoffs, it’s not how pretty you are. In the regular season, we were trying to get better, but now it’s advancing. The hits were timely. Jace had a couple of big hits again. He had some big hits against Cherokee County. He’s going to get some opportunities with the way teams pitch to Houston Edwards. I’m proud of them tonight.”
For the doubleheader, Ball had three hits (including a triple and a double), three RBI and two runs scored. Addison had two hits and an RBI, while Stewart and Edwards each had two hits. Rainey had two hits and an RBI, while Johnson had an RBI.