E.A. Sports Today

Hammond heroics

Senior’s bases-loaded single in seventh lifts Oxford to series win, team waits to learn quarterfinal playoff opponent

Oxford's Andy Hammond (36) follows the flight of his series-winning single in the bottom of the seventh inning Saturday.

Oxford’s Andy Hammond (36) follows the flight of his series-winning single in the bottom of the seventh inning Saturday.

By Al Muskewitz

East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD — Somebody opened the door to the Oxford dressing room at Choccolocco Park Saturday afternoon and the roar that came from inside was deafening.

It was like an airplane had landed in the middle of the complex. Everyone standing near the clubhouse took a step back and looked.

All it was, Yellow Jackets coach Wes Brooks explained, was his team releasing all the pressure that had been building all weekend.

“When a series goes three games you’re just drained,” Brooks said. “It was time to get loud again.”

Andy Hammond had the loudest hit. It was his bases-loaded single with one out in the bottom of the seventh that gave the eighth-ranked Yellow Jackets a 4-3 win over Homewood in the winner-take-all third game of their Class 6A playoff series.

The Jackets now await the winner of Monday’s Cullman-Hartselle Game 3 to discover their opponent for the quarterfinals.

Facing perhaps the final at bat of his high school career, Hammond laced a single over shortstop Jacob Fitts to plate Austin Bolander with the winning run. The Calhoun County Tournament MVP re-entered as a pinch-hitter for sophomore Caden Higgins after starting the game as the designated hitter.

Higgins went into the game at second — in Hammond’s spot in the lineup — when second baseman Trey Hopper replaced starting pitcher Dillen Miller. Higgins hit a couple times, but Brooks had a decision to make in the seventh.

He had confidence in Higgins, but there were so many scenarios to consider and the thing to know about Brooks as a baseball man is he’s gone through them all in his head days ahead of time. Both Higgins and Hammond had bats in their hands at the on-deck circle.

“We knew someone was going to have to come up to the plate with men in scoring position,” Hammond said. “It was funny because when coach Brooks said ‘Hammond, Higs, y’all both start swinging,’ we looked at each other and were like who’s gonna do it.

“We had confidence in each other that someone was going to, either me or him, we’re both going to be able to knock it in. With it falling back on me, words can not describe it.”

The inning didn’t start well for the Patriots and got progressively worse. Bolander led off getting hit by a pitch. He was sacrificed to second and wound up at third after an intentional walk to Nate Lloyd and another hit batsman.

Hammond went to the plate with instructions to look for a pitch high and hit it to the outfield. It’s something he’s been working on since a knee injury impacts his speed and Brooks gave him a chance to put his progress on display.

“It’s just going up there and having confidence,” Hammond said. “Once I hit it I was like, ‘please don’t catch it;’ I was so excited. Once I hit first base I felt like I was going to get smoked (by his onrushing teammates). It turned out great.”

The Jackets trailed 3-0 in the second inning, got two in the bottom of the second and tied the game in the fourth when Jud Moore raced around from second in Bolander’s infield single.

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