By Joe Medley, East Alabama Sports Today
PIEDMONT — It all set up so perfectly.
Piedmont needed one run in the bottom of the seventh inning of Friday’s Game 3 of its Class 3A quarterfinal series against Gordo. It was Jack Hayes’ turn at bat with runners on first and second bases and two outs in a tie game.
The football-baseball “generational player,” as Piedmont baseball coach Matt Deerman acknowledged later, would have one more shot to extend his final Piedmont season one, maybe two weeks.
Gordo coach Jonathan Pate is no fool and issued the reigning Class 3A player of the year an intentional walk to load the bases with two outs.
The game would go to the eighth inning. Gordo won 5-3 to reach next week’s semifinals.
So ended the notable high school careers of four Piedmont seniors on their home field. Hayes, Max Hanson, Sloan Smith and Jake Austin played their last in blue and gold, and an emotional Deerman assessed the loss.
“As a group, they’ve done so much in every sport,” Deerman said. “The last one that you finish in the spring is always tough, but they left a legacy here in all three sports they participated in, especially football and baseball. …
“All of these guys are very high-character guys. That’s all you can say about them. I was proud fo be their coach. I was very fortunate to be a part of their lives for the last six years.”
Hayes, a Snead State Community College signee in baseball, finished his football career as a four-time, first-team all-state selection and two-time Class 3A back of the year, as chosen by the Alabama Sports Writers Association. He was also a two-time Class 1A-3A Calhoun County player of the year.
He tops four Alabama High School Athletic Association all-time lists: 223 total touchdowns (rushing and passing), 159 touchdown passes, 15,104 total yards and 11,024 passing yards.
Hayes was 51-8 as Piedmont’s starting quarterback, including one start as an eighth-grader. Over his four seasons as the full-time starter, he quarterbacked the Bulldogs to three Class 3A state title games. Piedmont won two, and he was the Super 7 MVP both times.
He pulled the trigger for the greatest comeback in Super 7 history, leading Piedmont back from a 29-6 halftime deficit to beat Montgomery Academy 35-33 in 2021.
Hayes accounted for 865 total yards and rushed for 143 yards and two touchdowns in that game. He passed for 123 yards and three touchdowns.
Over three Super 7 games, he accounted for 865 total yards and 13 touchdowns passing or rushing.
He played in the Alabama North-South All-Star Game in December.
Hayes’ football exploits alone would warrant a career-achievement award.
In baseball, Hayes is a three-time all-state pick, 2021 Class 3A hitter of the year and 2022 3A player of the year. He was ASWA Super All-State and Alabama Baseball Coaches Association dual player of the year for 2022.
Entering this season, he held Piedmont career records for hits (182) and runs batted in (175) with still his senior year to play. Deerman did not have final numbers immediately available Friday, but Hayes ends his career as one of Calhoun County’s most decorated athletes.
“He was a dog from day one, when he started in seventh grade, to the time he left the field out here,” Deerman said. “He has a no-quit attitude, and those are the types of guys you want to go to battle with.
“He set all kinds of records and all of that, but you put all of that aside, and he’s a great young man.”
With emotions of the game and postgame hugs raw, Hayes did his best with the legacy question.
“When I sit back in a couple of years and look at it, I’ll think something of it,” he said. “I was just trying to win another state championship and fell a little short. It happens.”
As for his classmates, Hanson was one of Hayes’ football receivers and a high-in-the-order hitter who so often set the table for him. The speedy Hanson had center field covered, from the right fielder to the left fielder, and will team up with Hayes at Snead.
Hanson has been an all-state player in football and baseball. Deerman choked back tears when describing him.
“He’s one of my favorite all-time people,” Deerman said. “I don’t like to have favorites, but he is.
“That guy would run through that stadium over there if you asked him to just to please you, and he got every ounce of ability out of what he does.”
Smith, the middle child of former Piedmont football coach Steve Smith and softball coach Rachel Smith, punted and kicked extra points and field goals in football. When asked to in that Class 3A title game against Montgomery Academy, he strategically took punt snaps and ran out of the back of the end zone for two safeties … the only points credited to Montgomery Academy in the second half after the Eagles led 29-6 at halftime.
He had clutch hits and pitching performances in Piedmont’s run to the 2022 Class 3A baseball final. His grand slam, the only home run of his life, keyed Piedmont’s comeback to beat Gordo 7-6 in Thursday’s Game 1.
“You watch Sloan when he was little, and you’re like, ‘Man, that guy, eventually he’s going to grow up, because he always worked so hard,” Deerman said. “He was in the class that had so many seniors in it that were all so talented, and he always had to work for every ounce that he got. He always got everything out of himself that he had.
“I always talk about how resilient he was. He always found a way.”
Austin was an All-Calhoun County defensive back in football and outfielder in baseball. Deerman described him as “tough as nails.”
“He was always kind of that guy that people didn’t talk about much, but he was always doing little things,” Deerman said. “Whatever it took to win, you want that guy on your team.
“Tough. He played through injuries. He came up with big plays in the outfield all of the time.”