E.A. Sports Today

J’ville drops 2 tight ones

Golden Eagles just couldn’t come up with the key hit in being swept out of playoffs by Cherokee County

Jacksonville's Colin Casey delivers a pitch during the Golden Eagles' Class 4A playoff doubleheader at Cherokee County Friday night. (Photo by Shannon Fagan)

Jacksonville’s Colin Casey delivers a pitch during the Golden Eagles’ Class 4A playoff doubleheader at Cherokee County Friday night. (Photo by Shannon Fagan)

By Shannon Fagan
Cherokee County Herald

CENTRE – Jacksonville baseball coach David Deerman knew the Golden Eagles’ opening-round baseball playoff series at fifth-ranked Cherokee County would be a tight one.

His gut feeling proved to be accurate.

The Golden Eagles battled the Warriors tooth-and-nail, but some timely two-out hitting and clutch pitching by the Warriors in both games allowed them to sweep the series on Friday, 5-4 and 4-2.

Cherokee County (24-7) advances to next weekend’s second round of the Class 4A playoffs, where it will host Cleburne County. Jacksonville’s season ends at 25-8.

“We were one hit away for about two or three innings there,” Deerman said. “We left them loaded one time, but we fought. We had a chance to tie it there, but we didn’t swing it well most of the (second) game.

“Their pitchers are good. I thought their pitchers did a great job. We knew their pitching staff was great coming in, and they had two or three runs with two outs. They had some big two-out hits, and that was a big difference.”

Cherokee County coach Fran Blanchard said the Warriors “have really bought in to what we’ve done” since he and son Coty, along with Jayde Boatfield, took over the coaching reigns earlier this season.

In Game One, Cherokee County took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first on a sacrifice fly from catcher Colin Brewer that scored leadoff hitter Colin Edwards.

That lead was short-lived, as Jacksonville manufactured three runs in the second. Kyle Seeger and Colton Clark both delivered run-scoring singles. Blake Morris also singled to lead off the inning and scored on a balk by Warrior starting pitcher Bronson Chandler.

The Warriors got one of those runs back in the bottom of the third, again courtesy of Edwards. He led off with a single to left and scored on an error at short with one out to cut the Golden Eagle lead to 3-2.

Edwards finished the game going 3-for-4 with a double and three runs.

Cherokee County regained the lead with a three-run fourth, which chased Jacksonville starting pitcher Brandon Breeding. The big blows of the inning were a two-run single by Jaren Lockridge and a run-scoring double by Brewer. Both of those hits came with two outs.

Jacksonville managed to make things interesting in the top of the seventh, scoring a run on a RBI-single by Austin Lackey with one out to make it a one-run game. Lackey, who went 2-for-3 to lead Jacksonville at the plate, chased Chandler from the game in favor of Ethan Johnson, who loaded the bases after hitting Makyah Curry with a pitch with two outs.

However, Johnson recovered to get Blake Morris to ground into a fielder’s choice at second to preserve the win and earn the save.

Chandler picked up the win after tossing 6 1/3 innings. He gave up three earned runs on seven hits with a walk and six strikeouts. He was also 1-for-3 at the at the plate.

Jaren Lockridge had a pair of hits for the Warriors and drove in three runs. Brewer finished with a double and drove in two runs.

Cherokee County jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first in Game Two on a RBI-single by Brewer and a double to right by Jy Lockridge.

Warrior starter Noah Ledbetter made those runs count through his five innings of work. He allowed just three hits with three walks and five strikeouts before being lifted in favor of Christian Stinson in the sixth. Stinson struck out the side in the sixth to keep the score at 2-0.

Cherokee County tacked on two more runs in the top of the seventh. Edwards led off the inning with a walk and later scored on a fielder’s choice. Jy Lockridge tripled home the other Warrior run against Golden Eagle reliever Addison Aaron.

Stinson struggled against the Golden Eagles in their final at-bat. Walks to Evan Shook and Nicholas Garmon and a single to left by Joshua Glass loaded the bases with one out. Clark then delivered a RBI-single to right to chase Stinson from the game in favor of Gunnar Gable.

Gable got Lackey to ground out to third, allowing another Golden Eagle run to score. Gable then retired Colin Casey on a pop out to right for the final out of the game.

Glass and Casey both went 2-for-4 for the Golden Eagles. Casey suffered the loss.

“We were playing good coming into this series, but I don’t take anything away from them; they’ve got a good ball club,” he said. “They may win the North. They’re deep on the mound and they can hit it throughout their lineup. We knew we had a tough draw coming in. I thought we did a good job having a chance to win both games.”

Jaren Lockridge went 3-for-4 and Jy Lockridge was 2-for-3 with a triple, a double, a walk and two RBIs for the Warriors.

Fran Blanchard said getting past the Golden Eagles was a major test, but “it gets tougher” from here on out.

“We’ve set ourselves up for this,” he said. “We’ve seen Hoover. We’ve seen Gardendale. We’ve faced Ramsay. We’ve seen Hokes Bluff. We’re ready. We’re going to do everything we can do to make our guys play our game. If we play ours, then we’re going to stay in them. We’re going to play good defense. We’re going to get quality pitching, and we’re going to come up to the plate and get good at-bats. If you do that and get beat, then you’ve done everything you’re supposed to do. We’re having so much fun, we don’t want it to end. We know if we don’t win, we don’t play anymore.”

Shannon Fagan is sports editor of the Cherokee County Herald.

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