Carden’s walk-off double sends Westbrook to state semifinals

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Photo: Westbrook Christian’s Greyson Carroll slides into third base as Fayette County’s Landon Lowe awaits the throw during the Warriors’ 8-4 victory in game 1 of the teams’ Class 3A state baseball quarterfinal series on Wednesday, May 1 in Rainbow City. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)

By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor

With its 2024 season hanging in the balance, the Westbrook Christian baseball team produced one of biggest comebacks in the school’s postseason history on Thursday, May 2 in Rainbow City.
Trailing Fayettte County by six runs and down to their final six outs in the deciding third game of a best-of-three Class 3A state quarterfinal series, the Warriors scored six runs over the final two innings to earn a 9-8 win and a berth in the state semifinals for the first time in three years.
“Fayette County was as good as advertised,” said Westbrook head coach Jerry Windle. “When you get down that much late in the game to a team like that, that’s a tall order. We also made six errors, which kind of puts you behind the eight ball, so we needed some things to go our way. Fortunately, our guys remained competitive and we eventually got the results.”
The man of the hour for Westbrook (22-11) was Cameron Carden, whose two-out walk-off double in the bottom of the seventh inning cleared the bases and capped off the team’s season-saving rally.
“Cam had been struggling a little bit in this series, and for him to come through in that situation was great to see,” said Windle. “It’s always great to see a senior bounce back from adversity and being able to have that kind of at-bat.”
Brady Carden, Wil Chadwick and Noah Wright set the table for Cameron Carden’s game-winning hit when each player drew a walk.
“[The Fayette County pitcher] was up in the zone a bit and missing it off the plate, and our guys did a good job of protecting the plate and recognizing what was coming.”
The Tigers (26-13) looked to be in decent shape after a three-run inning in the top of the sixth provided them with an 8-3 advantage and put the Warriors’ hopes of a series win in serious jepordy.
Instead of folding their tents, the Warriors quickly drew within four runs after Brody Blevins deposited the first pitch of the inning over the leftfield wall.
With one out, Noah Wright singled and Bo Kilgo walked to set up Cameron Carden, who lined a base hit to centerfield and to plate Wright. Kilgo came home later in the inning when Jacob Maples grounded into a fielder’s choice, and all of a sudden, Westbrook was within two runs.
“Brody’s been so big for us this year as a freshman,” said Windle. “He’s such a competitor. It gave us a little bit of a lift and let everyone know that we still had some life left in us. I think it also keeps your opponent in check in that they realize that we’re not just going to roll over.”
Relief pitcher Ben Morrison held Fayette County in check in the top of the seventh. Following Brady Stocks’ leadoff single, Morrison struck out the next batter. Stocks moved to second base on a fielder’s choice and Landon Lowe drew a walk, but Morrison struck out Harrison Unger in a nine-pitch at-bat to keep Westbrook within striking distance.
“It wasn’t like there wasn’t anyone on base,” said Windle. “Ben came with runners in first and second right after we made an error, and he worked out of a jam against as good a hitting team as we’ve faced all year Ben’s thrown strikes and hasn’t walked a lot of guys, and he’s commanded all three of his pitches really well.”
Brady Carden worked a walk to lead off the bottom of the seventh, and five batters later, Cameron Carden finished off the comeback.
Cameron Carden went 3-for-4 with three RBI and a run scored, while Brady Carden went 2-for-3 with a run scored. Dylan Rainey had a three-run base hit.
The Warriors jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when Johnson singled, stole second and third base and scored on Dylan Rainey’s groundout. But the Tigers tied it on A.J. Parris’ RBI base hit in the second and went ahead 5-1 in the fourth on a pair of unearned runs in the fourth and off two errors in the fifth.
Westbrook cut it to 5-2 in the bottom of the fifth by way of Rainey’s two-run base hit, but respective bases-loaded singles from Loew, Harrison Unger and Kason Rushing put the Warriors in an 8-3 hole.
The teams split the doubleheader opener of the series on Wednesday, May 2. The Warriors took the first game, 8-4, while the Tigers prevailed 7-4 in game 2.
A four-run sixth inning propelled the Warriors to victory in game 1. With the score tied 4-4, Kilgo and Maples singled and Johnson worked a walk to load the bases for Rainey, who lined a base hit to plate two runs.
In the next at-bat, Brady Carden stroked a two-run single to make it a four-run advantage.
The Tigers mounted a rally in the top of the seventh when they put runners on first and third with no outs. However, Kilgo, who was pitching in relief of Rainey, fanned two batters and induced a flyout to end the threat and secure the win.
Westbrook got off to a good start in the opener with three runs in the bottom of the first inning courtesy of RBI base hits from Carden and Blevins and a sacrifice fly by Wil Chadwick.
Fayette County drew within a run in the top of the second on Parris’ run-scoring single and Brayden Unger’s sacrifice fly.
In the third, Blevins singled, stole second and third and scored on an error to make it 4-2, but Harrison Unger’s score in the fourth trimmed the lead to one run and Dylan Schlorerb’s RBI base hit in the sixth tied it at 4-4.
Rainey went five and two-third innings, scattering seven hits, four runs and three walks while striking out four. At the plate for the Warriors, Carden went 3-for-4 with two RBI and a run scored, Blevins went 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored and Johnson went 2-for-3 with two runs scored.
In game 2, Harrison Unger effectively shut down the Warrior lineup after allowing two runs over the first two innings. Following Johnson’s RBI double in the top of the second that drew Westbrook within 5-4, Unger allowed six baserunner the rest of the way, only one of which advanced past second. In seven innings, Unger allowed eight hits, two earned runs and two walks while fanning six.
The Warriors struck first with a pair of runs in the top of the first courtesy of a bases-loaded balk and Brady Carden’s RBI groundout.
Fayette County answered with five runs in the bottom of the inning, but Johnson’s two-run double in the second brought Westbrook within 5-4. That turned out to be the final runs of the game for the Warriors. The Tigers scored once in the fifth and twice more in the sixth for additional insurance.
Johnson went 2-for-4 with two RBI and a run scored and Blevins went 2-for-4 for Westbrook.
Westbrook will face Lauderdale County in the state semifinals starting Tuesday, May 7 with a doubleheader at 4:40 and 7:30. An if-necessary game 3 is scheduled for Wednesday at 12 p.m.
Westbrook lost to the Tigers in the second round last season.
“[Lauderdale County] has really two pitchers (Miles Edwards and Joseph Tucker) who are as good a 1-2 combination across all classifications,” said Windle. “They’re a really well-coached team that plays solid defense and gets the job done offensively. It’s a tough place to play, too, because they bring out their fans. But it’s a great opportunity for us, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

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