E.A. Sports Today

Gentry pitches Tigers to sweep

[corner-ad id=1]Cleburne County wins first game in seventh, takes second behind unexpected pitcher

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — Avery Gentry made the most of his first high school start Friday night.

The sophomore right-hander, just called up from the B Team, was handed the ball in the Game 2 of Cleburne County’s Class 4A playoff series with Jacksonville and held the Golden Eagles scoreless until being relieved in the seventh as the Tigers won 3-0 to complete the sweep.

Pinch-hitter Max Watson poked an opposite-field single just inside the bag at first to drive in the go-ahead run in the seventh and Brady Padgett struck out the side in order in the bottom of the inning to preserve the Tigers’ 6-5 win in the opener.

The Tigers (17-9) now host Oneonta (27-5) in the third round.

It was expected the Tigers would start Padgett in one of the games, particularly opposite Jacksonville’s Sid Thurmond, who they wanted to throw a lot, but when the second-game lineups were announced it was Gentry on the hill. Actually, the Tigers won both games without starting their Nos. 1 or 2.

Gentry pitched 6 1-3 innings, allowing six hits, one walk and striking out five. He worked out of a first-and-third jam with one out in the fourth and a bases-loaded two-out jam in the fifth, but other than that got through it cleanly. When the game was over, Tigers coach Vaughn Lee embraced Gentry and gave him the game ball.

“I was just happy to come out here and give our team the win,” Gentry said. “It felt great. It was probably one of the best games I’ve had.

“They told me (he was starting) at the last minute. I was nervous, but Brady came out there and told me that I was the man for the job. I wasn’t supposed to pitch but three or four innings, but coach said keep going until they get a runner. I was just happy to go that far.”

It was only his second appearance with the varsity and clearly the most meaningful. He pitched to a few hitters in an area series against Saks, but for the most part pitched for the B Team. Interestingly, he beat Jacksonville in a B game on this same Henry Farm Park diamond earlier this year.

“Avery just went so deep and he got us way more than we ever imagined he would get us,” Lee said. “He just kind of handled it like … a B Team game. He didn’t realize he was in the second round of the playoffs. He didn’t have time to get nervous.”

Gentry and Thurmond were locked in a pitcher’s duel for five innings before the Tigers broke a scoreless tie with three runs in the sixth. They batted around, taking advantage of three hits and three walks. Tyler Berry and pinch hitter Noah Gaines singled runs home and pinch-hitter Nick Dunston drew a bases-loaded walk.

Up to that point, Thurmond had been dealing, too. He had allowed only one hit through the first five innings, struck out seven and faced four batters over the minimum.

Gentry came out in the seventh after walking the second batter of the inning and Thurmond coming to the plate. Padgett came on and walked Thurmond, who singled in his previous at bat, then retired the final two on balls in the infield.

“I didn’t think they were going to (start) Brady since they won the first one,” Jacksonville coach David Deerman said. “I thought (Gentry) came in and threw good, but we squared a lot of balls up and hit a lot of balls pretty hard right at them. (If) those balls were 3-4 feet either way, that’s a game changer.”

In the opener, the Golden Eagles (22-7) rallied from a 5-2 deficit to tie the game in the home sixth. They batted around to chase starter Tyler Berry and bring on Padgett.

The last two batters Berry faced were Sid Thurmond drilling an RBI single to make it 5-3 and Josh Glass following with an RBI single to make it 5-4. Padgett walked the first batter he faced to load the bases, then walked Blake Morris to force in the tying run.

The Tigers scored their go-ahead run in the seventh with two outs. Brock Swafford started the rally with a single and stole second. Watson, pinch-hitting for Josh Davis, then hit a ball off the end of his bat that got between first baseman Austin Lackey and the bag into right field and brought the run home.

The Tigers still had to get Jacksonville out one more time and Lee called on Padgett to take care of that, and he did by striking out the side in order.

“I thought in this series Game 1 was really the crucial game, more than any I’ve ever been in,” Lee said.

Thurmond homered leading off the Jacksonville first to tie the game and had two hits. Glass also had two hits, but the Golden Eagles had bases loaded in three innings and only got one run out of it.

“We left a lot of guys on base,” Deerman said. “We’ve been kind of living by the skin of our teeth all year and we’ve got some hits in some of those situations. We pitched out of some big innings this year, they pitched out of it tonight.”

On the cover: Sophomore right-hander Avery Gentry packs his gear after pitching six-plus innings in the nightcap of Cleburne County’s playoff sweep of Jacksonville.

Cleburne County 6, Jacksonville 5

Cleburne Co. 120 110 1 — 6 10 0
Jacksonville 100 013 0 — 5 7 1

Tyler Berry, BRADY PADGETT (6) and Austin Harler; COLLIN CASEY and Blake Morris. 2B: Anderson Jacks (C). HR: Sid Thurmond (J). WP: Padgett. LP: Casey.

Cleburne County 3, Jacksonville 0

Jacksonville 000 000 0 — 0 6 0
Cleburne Co. 000 003 x — 3 4 0

SID THURMOND and Blake Morris; AVERY GENTRY, Brady Padgett and Austin Harler. 2B: Anderson Jacks (C). WP: Gentry. LP: Thurmond.

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