Photo: Hokes Bluff’s Koby Addison (14) is congratulated by head coach Mike Robertson after Addison’s three-run home run during the Eagles’ sweep of Cleburne County in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs on Monday (April 22) at Hokes Bluff. (Alex Chaney)
By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
Class 4A No. 1 Hokes Bluff baseball’s quest for its 10th state championship began with a sweep in the first round of the state playoffs on Monday (April 22).
The host Eagles (21-3) swept Cleburne County, 12-4 and 6-0, at Estes/Wright Field in Hokes Bluff to advance to the second round. They host Wilson on Friday (April 26) in a rematch from last postseason’s state quarterfinals.
Hokes Bluff won the first game of the doubleheader despite falling behind 4-1 early in the game. Cleburne County’s Devin Hicks had four RBI in the first three innings, including a two-run home run in the third. The Tigers loaded the bases loaded with one out in the fourth inning but Hokes Bluff pitcher Dylan Teague escaped trouble after forcing a popup and notching a strikeout to end the inning.
Teague helped his own cause with an RBI double in the bottom of the fourth to cut the lead to 4-3, and the Eagles exploded in the bottom of the fifth to take the lead for good. Koby Addison blasted a three-run home run to give Hokes Bluff its first lead of the game and added an RBI double later in the inning as the Eagles batted around. The Eagles scored eight runs in the inning, most them off of ace pitcher and Jacksonville State commitment Reese Morrison. Morrison struck out eight batters but allowed seven earned runs and walked six.
“(Morrison) is good, and we knew he was good, and he’s already committed to Jacksonville State (as a junior),” said Hokes Bluff coach Mike Robertson. “We just wanted to try and see some pitches and get his pitch count up, and we did do that. I thought we did a good job of doing that, but (Morrison) is tough. Koby’s hitting the ball really well, and they put him on (base) four times.”
Teague struck out six batters and gave up two earned runs in the win. He allowed five hits and walked five batters.
Robertson liked the way his senior pitcher battled on the mound.
“Dylan did what he always does; he keeps you in the game,” Robertson said. “The biggest part of the first game was when [Cleburne County] had the bases loaded with one out. (Teague) got the kid to pop up and then struck out the kid with the bases loaded. We came back and put two runs up (in the bottom of the fourth), and getting it to 4-3 allowed us to put some pressure on them.”
In the second game, Hokes Bluff relied on sophomore pitcher Payton Lemons to keep them afloat while the Eagles struggled at the plate. Lemons responded to the challenge, as he fanned 12 batters and allowed only three hits and two walks in a complete-game shutout.
The game was scoreless through four innings when Hokes Bluff finally broke the tie in the fifth inning on an unearned run.
With two outs, catcher Houston Edwards walked, and the Tigers intentionally walked Addison. Drake Rainey hit a popup in the infield, but the routine fly ball was dropped. Jackson Fielding, who was courtesy running for Edwards, scored from second base to break the tie at 1-0.
In the top of the sixth inning, the Eagles managed to score five runs on only one hit. Teague drove in two runs on an RBI double, and pitches hit both Rainey and Caleb McGinnis with the bases loaded to score two more runs. Hokes Bluff added its last run on a wild pitch.
Robertson said his team hit a lull in the second game but finally snapped out of it late and tacked some runs on the board.
“We did some good things offensively, even though we didn’t hit the ball well,” he said. “We did a good job of getting on base.”
The Tigers had a difficult time catching up to Lemons’ fastball, and Robertson said he didn’t need to call a lot of breaking pitches. Lemons said he was confident in his fastball throughout the game and wasn’t fazed by the Eagles’ lack of run production.
“You just have to stay strong and stay with your pitches and trust in your teammates,” Lemons said. “Eddie (Houston Edwards) did a good job. It’s all about staying composed and not trying to do too much.”
A season ago, Hokes Bluff hosted No. 2 Wilson in the state quarterfinals en route to an appearance in the state championship series. The Warriors are led by a strong pitching staff, including junior and Auburn commit Luke Daniel.
The Eagles have been atop the 4A rankings all season. The doubleheader against Wilson will begin at 5 p.m. on Friday at Estes/Wright Field in Hokes Bluff.