Photo: Hokes Bluff senior Landon Johnson had the series-winning hit in the Eagles’ sweep over Winfield in the second round of the Class 4A state baseball playoffs on April 27. (Alex Chaney/Messenger file photo)
By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
A walk-off base hit from senior Landon Johnson in the bottom of the ninth inning propelled Hokes Bluff to a 4-3 win and sweep over Winfield in the second round of the Class 4A state baseball playoffs on Friday (April 27) in Winfield.
The Eagles (23-5) and the Pirates went into extra innings tied 3-3, and both teams were close to scoring on multiple occasions late in the game.
Hokes Bluff leadoff hitter Carson Eubanks punched through a base hit to start the bottom of the ninth and made his way to second base on a wild pitch.
With one out, Koby Addison dribbled a ball to first base for an out, but it moved Edwards to third. Winfield coach Alan Smith opted to intentionally walk Hokes Bluff cleanup hitter Houston Edwards, who had hit a home run in the first game of the series. The Pirates also intentionally walked Jace Stewart, who blasted a three-run home run in the first game.
The two walks loaded the bases for Johnson, and he took the first two pitches for a ball and a strike. The third pitch of the at-bat was a fastball on the outside corner of the plate, and Johnson crushed the ball down the right field line to score Eubanks.
Hokes Bluff coach Mike Robertson wasn’t surprised that the Pirates decided to walk Edwards and Eubanks, even though Johnson had actually been more effective at the plate during the doubleheader.
“I would have done the same thing, truthfully,” Robertson said. “But Landon hit it harder that game than (Edwards and Stewart). When you do that, it forces you as a pitcher and a coach calling pitches to throw all fastballs. It forced him to throw down the middle and say, ‘you’ve got to hit it.’
“Landon squared it up, and he had already killed that other one to centerfield (in the eighth inning). I’m proud of the guys for battling.”
Winfield jumped on the board first in the top of the third after a blooper from Jackson Elkins plated Gavin Norris, but the Eagles responded in the bottom of the inning.
Dylan Teague and Eubanks hit back-to-back singles to start the inning, and Weston Ball drove in both runners with an RBI single to give the Eagles a 2-1 lead.
However, the Pirates added two more runs in the top of the fourth. Norris drove home two runs with a two-out single to give his team a 3-2 advantage, but Hokes Bluff evened the score in the in the bottom of the fourth when Teague plated Caleb McGinnis.
Hokes Bluff pitcher Payton Lemons struck out seven batters in six innings of work while allowing three runs, five hits and two walks. Ball struck out three batters and allowed no hits in one and two-third innings, and McGinnis earned the win on the mound after tossing one and one-third innings and striking out one batter.
The first game of the doubleheader was a far less dramatic win for the Eagles, as they cruised to a 15-1 victory.
Winfield struck first in the bottom of the first inning after Toby Porter brought home Jack Williamson, but it was all Hokes Bluff for the rest of the game.
Jace Stewart drove home Houston Edwards for the Eagles’ first run of the game on an RBI double, and Landon Johnson’s sacrifice fly plated Stewart to give Hokes Bluff a 2-1 advantage. Later in the inning, starting pitcher Dylan Teague helped his own cause by driving home McGinnis with an RBI single to extend the lead to 3-1.
Edwards crushed a solo home run in the top of the third inning, and it was all Hokes Bluff from there on. McGinnis, who was 5-for-5 in the first game, hit an RBI double to score Johnson in the top of the fourth, and Eubanks hit an RBI single to score McGinnis later in the inning to give the Eagles a 6-1 lead.
The rout continued in the top of the fifth when McGinnis drove home Addison and Stewart, and Johnson hit an RBI single to score Addison in the top of the sixth to push the lead to 9-1.
The Eagles had their best inning at the plate in the top of the seventh as they scored six runs. Ball hit a sacrifice fly for the first run to score McGinnis, and Edwards drove home Teague two batters later. With two runners on, Stewart smashed a home run into right field to extend the lead to 14-1. Later in the inning, McGinnis recorded his fifth hit of the game to score Johnson for the final score of 15-1.
Teague threw a complete game in the win, allowing only one run on four hits and four walks while fanning four.
Robertson said the blowout win in the opener might have made the second game more difficult for his team.
“I’m proud of the guys,” Robertson said. “Give [Winfield’s] pitcher credit; he kept us off stride with a lot of breaking stuff. Baseball’s a crazy game. It’s not like football where you start beating up on somebody and keep doing it. But give our guys credit for staying in the game. We had chances in four straight innings where we were just one hit away. I’m really proud to move on.”
McGinnis had six hits in the series, including a double, four RBI and four runs scored. Johnson had six hits and three RBI, while Eubanks had four hits, an RBI, three runs scored and a stolen base.
Addison, Edwards, Stewart and Teague had three hits each. Stewart had four RBI, while Teague, Edwards and Ball each had three. Drake Rainey and Lemons each had a hit for the Eagles.
Hokes Bluff hosts No. 2 Wilson in the quarterfinals for a doubleheader on Friday, May 4. The Eagles and the Warriors are the highest ranked teams remaining in Class 4A, and the winner of the series will face either Oneonta or Sardis in the semifinals.