JACKSONVILLE – The Piedmont Bulldogs were the team to catch the breaks and make the least mistakes in the first game of the Class 3A baseball state championship series against Trinity Presbyterian on Monday at Jacksonville State University.
Tuesday was quite the opposite.
Just a win away from clinching their first state title, heartbreak beset the Bulldogs, who were swept in a pair of close games 6-5 and 3-1.
“Like we said last night, these two teams were very similar,” Piedmont coach Matt Deerman said. “We talked about the team that makes the fewest mistakes is probably going to win. That’s pretty much what happened. Last night, they made some mistakes in crucial situations and we took advantage of it. They did the same thing today in the early innings.
“We did a really good job of controlling a lot of innings, but there were a couple of times we didn’t make a play when we had to have it, or get a hit when we had to have it. Their guy (Game 3 starter Coleman Stanley) was really good on the mound. You’ve got to give him a lot of credit. He kept us off-balance all game, like their guy (Ben Easterling) did in game one. We couldn’t ever come up with the hit we had to have.”
During Monday night’s press conference following the Wildcats’ 4-2 loss, Trinity first-year head coach Jarrod Cook didn’t seem fazed being down in the series. That’s because the Wildcats had been down in two of their playoff series this postseason, including last week’s semifinal against Thomasville.
“It was no panic, no flinch,” Cook said. “We refer to a military term of being in a foxhole, who we want in our foxhole when our backs are against the wall. These guys, with seven seniors, they just responded to that. We’ve been against the wall a lot this year. It hasn’t been perfect, but when it came down to time to get the job done, our guys stepped up.”
Stanley was one of those players who stepped up for the Wildcats (33-7). The senior tossed a three-hitter in game three, allowing just one earned run with no walks and five strikeouts on 73 pitches to earn the win.
“Being my last game, I knew I wanted to go seven innings,” Stanley said. “At the end of the day, they really put the ball in play a lot. I had eight other guys back there who were helping me get outs when I needed to. Really without those eight guys nothing would’ve happened today.”
Trinity scored an unearned run in the top of the first and another in the top of the third off of senior Austin Estes to take a 2-0 lead.
Piedmont (36-7) finally found some life in the bottom of the fifth. With one out, Estes smacked a triple to center. He scored on Max Hanson’s ground out to second to make the score 2-1.
“I run everything out, every hit, pop up, ground ball,” Estes said. “I kind of just peeked up and he (center fielder Mac McClinton) was probably 20 yards away from the ball. It was going over his head. I looked up at Coach Deerman and he was sending me to third.”
The little momentum Piedmont found quickly fizzled in the top of the sixth. Trinity’s Jordan Jenkins walked with one out, then pinch hitter Webber McClinton delivered a single to right off Piedmont reliever Cassius Fairs, bringing leadoff batter Simmons Byrd to the plate.
Fairs retired Byrd on a pop out to first, but then Mac McClinton sent a shot up the middle that Bulldog second baseman McClane Mohon dove for. Mohon tagged second, and the umpire ruled a sliding Webber McClinton safe, allowing another Wildcat run to score.
“The ball was hit up the middle, and I heard him call ball,” said Estes, who had moved to shortstop. “I kind of veered off, let the ball pass. He (Mohon) grabbed it and he tagged second base. The umpire is sitting there asking if he’s got the ball in his hand, and he’s got it. Then he called him safe. It was a force play. All he had to do was tag the bag.
“He (Mohon) did a great job. I personally thought he got there and it would’ve ended the inning, but you can’t go back and fix it now. It was a great play by Mohon. I’m so proud of him. He’s going to be at shortstop next year.”
Piedmont never seemed to recover from the play, as Stanley retired the Bulldog batters in the sixth and seventh to clinch the title.
Jack Hayes and Sloan Smith had the only other two Bulldog hits in the third game. Estes suffered the loss after working five innings and giving up an earned run on four hits with three walks and seven strikeouts. Fairs worked the final two innings, giving up an earned run on a hit with a pair of walks and a pair of strikeouts.
Grayson Ashe doubled and walked twice for the Wildcats.
In Tuesday’s first game, Trinity took a 6-1 lead after three innings before holding off a late Piedmont rally. The Bulldogs scored three runs in the top of the fifth to make it a one-run game, but could get no closer.
Hanson went 3-for-4 at the plate. Mohon went 2-for-4 with two runs and a RBI. Smith was 2-for-3. Jake Austin added a hit and two RBIs. Noah Reedy managed a hit and scored twice. Estes had a hit and scored a run. Ridge Fagan finished with a hit.
Brodie Homesley suffered the loss for the Bulldogs after working 4 2/3 innings. He gave up all six runs on eight hits with five walks and four strikeouts before giving way to Fairs.
David Michael Lieux led the Wildcats at the plate in Tuesday’s first game. He was 2-for-3 with a run and three RBIs. Fleming Hall earned the win after allowing four earned runs on 10 hits with a walk and three strikeouts.
“There’s only one team that’s happy at the end of the year, and it just so happened to be the team across the way from us,” Deerman said. “These guys tied the school record for wins. They won 27-straight games. We played a tough schedule. We do that to try and get to this point. We couldn’t quite get over the hump. This is the fourth time we’ve been here. We haven’t quite gotten over that hump. It was better this year.
“It’s just a blessing to be these guys’ coach. They lay it on the line every day. It’s been an amazing run and it’s not over. That’s the thing about us in football, baseball, basketball, whatever. It doesn’t matter. People always say ‘This is going to be Piedmont’s down year.’ I hope people keep thinking that, because we have guys like this who think it’s my turn.”