E.A. Sports Today

Piedmont splits, deciding game Saturday

Bulldogs win opener in seventh, rally falls short in nightcap

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

PIEDMONT — Bayley Blanchard ran as fast as he’s ever run in his life to win the first game and now he’ll have to pitch the game of his life to keep his team alive in the playoffs.

The Piedmont senior second baseman scored all the way from first base when Winfield pitcher Clark Kinard threw Tyler Lusk’s seventh-inning bunt into right field to give the Bulldogs to a 3-2 win in the first game of their Class 3A playoff series Friday.

And now he’ll get the ball in Saturday’s 3 p.m. deciding game after the Pirates took the nightcap 4-2. The winner gets Madison Academy.

“It’s the playoffs and you’ve got to be big in the playoffs,” Blanchard said. “First game we did what we had to do and the second game we just didn’t get it done.

“Now I’m going to go out there and try to shut them down and let my defense work and trust our bats, because our bats will get get hot at any time. I’ve just got to pitch well.”

Blanchard has only had the ball in hand in a Game 3 one other time — last year against Madison Academy. He’s looking to make amends here, but his approach will be “just another day in the playground” to play baseball.

“He’s just that type of kid,” said Bayley’s dad, James Blanchard, the Bulldogs’ head coach. “When the pressure’s on, he wants to be that guy.”

Blanchard got the winning rally in the first game started with a one-out infield single. Lusk followed by dropping a bunt in front of the plate. Kinard fielded it cleanly off the mound, but the ball settled in his palm and his throw sailed into the right field corner.

Bayley burned it around the bases. Third-base coach Matt Deerman waved him around and he easily beat the relay throw that was up the third base line. Blanchard scored all three of the Bulldogs’ runs in the opener.

“You just run as fast as you can,” Bayley said. “I was making sure I got home on that one. Coach Deerman trusts me enough to get there. He knows if he sends me I’m going to get there.

“I was proud of Tyler getting the bunt down first of all. At first I was just thinking ‘get to second,’ then I looked back when I got to second and I was thinking it’s in the outfield I’m going; just take off. As soon as I saw (Deerman) waving his arm around I started running as fast as I could.”

Lusk said he was bunting for a hit when he laid it down.

“I knew I had to get to first and try my best so we wouldn’t have two outs,” he said. “That was crazy. I tried to put the ball in play and make sure he got over and I didn’t get in the air and cost us a double play there. It just went our way.”

Winfield tied the game in the seventh on a leadoff homer by Jordan Hunt and had two runners in scoring position with one out before Peyton Whitten got out of the jam.

Whitten was dealing for five innings, holding the Pirates to two hits, but he gave up a hard-hit two-out double to the gap in the fifth that might have predicted what happened later.

The Pirates opened the sixth with a double and single to score the first earned run Whitten allowed in 21 playoff innings and cut their deficit to 2-1. The Bulldogs got out of the inning when first baseman Cale McCord snared a shot at the bag that was headed down the line for extra bases and turned an inning-ending double play.

It’s not unusual for a team that loses in such a crushing way to not recover in the second game, but the Pirates came out firing in the nightcap.

They jumped on the Bulldogs in the first inning on Cody Roberts’ three-run homer and never trailed. The Bulldogs got the tying run in scoring position in the seventh and Cale McCord nearly got a ball through the middle of the infield, but the Pirates made the play to end the game.

“You’ve got to come out and play your best ball tomorrow or go to the house,” James Blanchard said. “It’s a situation we haven’t been in a long time. We’ve just got to get it done.”

Piedmont 3, Winfield 2

Winfield 000 001 1 — 2 8 2
Piedmont 100 010 1 — 3 7 0

CLARK KINARD and Cody Roberts; PEYTON WHITTEN and Derrick Baer. 2B: Kent Jenkins (W), Logan Bradford (W), Will Harrison (W), Bayley Blanchard (P). HR: Jordan Hunt (W). WP: Whitten. LP: Kinard.

Winfield 4, Piedmont 2

Piedmont 001 000 1 — 2 6 1
Winfield 310 000 x — 4 5 1

TAYLOR HAYES and Derrick Baer; MATT GAMBLE, Will Harrison (5) and Cody Roberts.2B: Bayley Blanchard (P), Tyler Lusk (P), Easton Kirk (P). HR: Cody Roberts (W). WP: Gamble. LP: Hayes.

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