E.A. Sports Today

Piedmont wins area opener

Bulldogs take area opener, left-hander Hayes fans 10 to get first win of the season

Closer Caleb Morrow (L) congratulates starter Taylor Hayes in the dugout after the Piedmont left-hander's strong start in Tuesday's area opener.

Closer Caleb Morrow (L) congratulates starter Taylor Hayes in the dugout after the Piedmont left-hander’s strong start in Tuesday’s area opener.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

PIEDMONT — James Blanchard and Taylor Hayes had been waiting all season for a game like this, and it couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.

Hayes, Piedmont’s crafty junior left-hander, has been pitching well enough to win all season, but there always seemed elements of the rest of the game that were lacking.

It all came together Tuesday. The Bulldogs had timely hitting and fielded sharply and Hayes was even sharper than usual in beating Wellborn 6-1 in their area opener.

Hayes gave up three hits, an unearned run and struck out a season-high 10 in six innings for his first win of the season.

“It’s about time because he’s thrown it good all year … we just hadn’t backed him up,” said Blanchard, the Bulldogs’ head coach. “Glad to see the bats come around and they play good behind him because he’s pitched great every outing.

“I think we should’ve hit a little bit better today — we left too many runners on — but if we can correct that and he can throw like that we’re going to be real good.”

Hayes hadn’t given up more than three earned runs in any of his previous four appearances this season, but had three losses for his trouble. He had given up more than six hits only once. He had struck out 23 in 19 innings.

He threw a season-high 84 pitches in his latest start before tiring, 57 for strikes. He struck out every Wellborn hitter except one, Kane Pitts.

“The first two games of the year I pitched really good, but we — me included — didn’t hit well the ball that well,” Hayes said. “I just threw the ball across the plate and my guys back me up and we hit the ball pretty good today. It just all came together.

“It feels really good to get it all together and play a good game.”

His strikeouts came in waves. He struck out the first two batters of the game and at one point fanned five in a row, six of seven and eight of 11.

“He was just locating his pitches really good, working the corners, working in and out,” catcher Easton Kirk said. “He could throw any pitch he wanted to for a strike at any time in the count.

“I remember his freshman year he struck out like 14 or 15 against White Plains and I think that was like the best I’d ever seen him pitch, but today he was locating really good and it was one of the best times he has.”

Wellborn second baseman and five-hole hitter Blake Hanson was impressed with Hayes’ stuff. He called him the best 3A pitcher the Panthers have seen.

“We haven’t seen anything like that all year,” Hanson said. “It’s different going from the pitching machine at practice to this live arm right here. It’s nothing we can’t hit, it’s just something we have to learn to see.”

The Bulldogs (8-6) supported him with a run in the first, two in the second to take the lead for good, one in the fourth and two in the fifth. Hayes and Deven Hincy each had two hits. Hayley Blanchard and Kirk each had two RBIs.

Caleb Morrow cleaned up in the seventh in preparation for his projected Thursday start at Wellborn (weather permitting). He struck out two in his inning of work.

Piedmont 6, Wellborn 1

Wellborn 010 000 0 — 1 3 2
Piedmont 120 120 x — 6 9 1

Taylor Hayes, Caleb Morrow (7) and Easton Kirk; Ethan Beadles, C.J. Smith (5) and Jacob Shears. 3B: Bayley Blanchard (P). WP: Hayes (1-3). LP: Beadles.

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