Photo: Hokes Bluff’s Houston Edwards (left) prepares to tag out Andalusia’s Will Clark during the Eagle’s 2-1 loss in the Class 4A state baseball championship series on Wednesday, May 16, in Montgomery. (Mark Almondemail@example.com)
By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
Hokes Bluff’s quest for a 10th state championship ended in heartbreaking fashion on Wednesday (May 15) at Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery.
After the winning the first game of the series 6-3, on Tuesday, the No. 4 Eagles lost the final two games of the 4A state baseball finals to No. 10 Andalusia. The Bulldogs (30-5) won the series finale, 10-6, for their first baseball state championship in school history.
“Congratulations to Andalusia,” said Hokes Bluff coach Mike Robertson. “They’ve got a very good team, and we knew that coming into the series. (We had) a heck of a year. I’m so proud of them. We came from a tough area and had to battle just to get into the playoffs.”
The Eagles (28-8) played from behind in all three games in the series and could not keep up with the Bulldogs at the plate in the decisive game.
South Alabama commitment Ethan Wilson led off the third game with a triple and scored on a sacrifice fly RBI from Hogan Nichols to give the Bulldogs an early 1-0 lead.
Hokes Bluff took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the second after Jace Stewart and Landon Johnson scored on two separate wild pitches. The lead didn’t last long, however, as Andalusia quickly responded in the top of the third.
Garrett Davis scored after Will Clark was walked with the bases loaded. Chip Morgan hit a sacrifice fly RBI to centerfield to score Nichols, giving the Bulldogs a 3-2 advantage.
In the bottom of the third, Caleb McGinnis drove home Stewart to tie the game 3-3. The contest didn’t stay tied long as the Bulldogs exploded for a massive four-run inning in the top of the fourth to take a 7-3 lead.
The Eagles responded with a three-run inning in the bottom of the fifth to close the gap to 7-6. McGinnis walked to score Koby Addison, and Peyton Moore was hit by a pitch that scored pinch runner Jackson Fielding, the courtesy runner for catcher Houston Edwards, who singled earlier in the inning. Dylan Teague’s sacrifice fly RBI to centerfield scored Landon Johnson, but that was the final run of the evening for the Eagles.
Andalusia scored a run in the sixth inning and added two security runs in the top of the seventh for the 10-6 victory.
“When you score runs, you need to go back out and shut them down,” Robertson said.
Hokes Bluff used five pitchers during the game – including McGinnis, Weston Ball, Ashton Gulledge, Stewart and Johnson.
The second game of the series was a pitcher’s duel between Wilson and Hokes Bluff freshman Payton Lemons. The only runs for either team came during the third inning.
Wilson scored on an RBI double from Garrett Davis for the first run of the game, and Davis later scored to give the Bulldogs a 2-0 lead.
Ball drove in Teague on an RBI single in the bottom of the inning, but that was all the Eagles could muster at the plate. Wilson, who was named the MVP of the series, allowed only three hits and one run while tossing all seven innings despite rolling his ankle on a play at the plate when Teague scored.
Lemons scattered four hits and struck out seven batters in six innings.
“(n the) first game tonight, I thought Payton Lemons did a tremendous job and pitched a heck of a game,” Robertson said. “We just couldn’t seem to get anything going again (Wilson). We couldn’t put together anything. It was a good pitcher’s duel.”
In the first game of the series on Tuesday, Hokes Bluff overcame an early 2-0 deficit to win 6-3. The Bulldogs scored two runs in the bottom of the second, and the Eagles’ bats didn’t wake up until the fourth inning.
Johnson drove home the Eagles’ first run of the game on a sacrifice fly to right field to score Addison. In the fifth inning, Ball drove home Fielding – who was pinch running for Teague – to tie the game at 2-2. Carson Eubanks then scored on a wild pitch to give the Eagles a 3-2 advantage, and Edwards drove home Ball and Addison on a two-run RBI single to give his team a 5-2 cushion.
Andalusia closed the gap to 5-3 the following inning on an RBI double from Garrett Davis, but the Bulldogs couldn’t sustain anything else offensively for the remainder of the game. Ball scored Hokes Bluff’s final run of the game on a balk.
The loss ended Andalusia’s 17-game winning streak. Teague threw a complete game for the Eagles, allowing three runs on six hits and five strikeouts.
Addison and Edwards led the Eagles at the plate for the series with four hits apiece, while Edwards drove in three RBI. Eubanks, Johnson and Ball had two hits each. Ball had two RBI, while Johnson had one. McGinnis had one hit and two RBI, while Teague had one hit and one RBI.
Robertson was proud of his team’s effort throughout the year, crediting his senior class of Jace Stewart, Landon Johnson, Weston Ball, Dalton Daughdrill, Peyton Moore and Zack Estes, for helping guide the Eagles to the state championship series.
“I’m still very proud of what we accomplished this year, because we got down here,” Robertson said. “It’s been great to see them work hard and to have success. It’s been fun and it makes coaching a lot of fun. It’s not always about winning. It’s really about the attitude of playing and competing and wanting to be at practice.
“It’s really fun to be a coach, and that’s why I’m hanging around. The players are what it’s about. To see them work hard and have success and see them have fun. They want to play. They wanted to practice. When you have players like that, you have to feel good about your team. Senior leadership is so important.”
Several key players and contributors from this year’s team will return next season for the Eagles, including Edwards, Addison, McGinnis, Eubanks, Teague and Lemons. Edwards said he’s excited about the future of the program.
“I’m really excited, especially since we’re such a young team,” he said. “We have a bunch of experience coming back with Payton Lemons and Koby (Addison). We have a lot of stuff to work with over the next couple of years, and I’m excited.”