E.A. Sports Today

Oxford splits playoff opener

Jackets get pitching gem in opener, Bearcats’ bats come to life in the nightcap; rubber game 2 p.m. Saturday

Friday’s scores of local interest

Oxford 4, Cullman 0
Cullman 10, Oxford 1 (series tied 1-1)

Russellville 3, Alexandria 2
Russellville 12, Alexandria 1 (Russellville wins series 2-0)

North Jackson 9, Cleburne County 2
North Jackson 14, Cleburne County 5 (North Jackson wins series 2-0)

Westbrook Christian 7, Pisgah 2
Westbrook Christian 4, Pisgah 2 (Westbrook wins series 2-0)

Randolph County 12, Mars Hill Bible 1
Mars Hill Bible 6, Randolph County 4 (series tied 1-1)

By Al Muskewitz

East Alabama Sports Today

CULLMAN — The ride back home was going to be long and dark, but Oxford baseball coach Wes Brooks couldn’t wait to get on the bus.

The sooner he and the Yellow Jackets pulled out of the parking lot, the sooner they could flush the feeling of their second-game loss and get back to 0-0 again with their guys coming to the plate.

The Jackets split their Class 6A quarterfinals playoff doubleheader with Cullman Friday. They won the opener 4-0 and lost the nightcap 10-1.

The deciding game is here Saturday at 2 p.m.; the winner draws Southside-Gadsden in the semifinals. Dillen Miller will draw the start for Oxford and have the full complement of arms behind him.

“We’ve got plenty of arms, they’ve got plenty of arms,” Brooks said. “It ought to be a dogfight, a nail-biter.”

The team is driving back and forth for the series. Between the state track meet being held across the way this weekend and the lateness of learning their opponent, hotel rooms were at a premium.

The closest available was Birmingham and Brooks figured if the Jackets had to go there from here he might as well go all the way back home – with plenty of time to think about what just happened.

“We’ve been in adversity before,” Brooks said. “We’re not adversity now. We have a chance to score first tomorrow. Visiting teams won tonight. It’s 0-0 with our leadoff hitter coming up. Coach Brooks has had 48 games to put a lineup together at the beginning of a game to give us an opportunity to score one run.”

The Bearcats had that opportunity in the second game and took full advantage of it to score twice in the first inning.

The Yellow Jackets didn’t plan to pitch to Cullman slugger Owen Lovell at all in the doubleheader – they walked him all three times in the opener and twice intentionally in the nightcap – but challenged him in the first inning and he hit a two-run homer that might not have gone out of Oxford’s home park.

“We didn’t try to throw to him,” Brooks said. “He’s that type of hitter: You make a mistake, he’s going to hit it out. All good hitters, when you make a mistake, they make you pay and he did on that pitch.”

The Jackets got one of the runs back in the home first on Nate Lloyd’s sacrifice fly, but Cullman extended the lead with two in the fifth and one in the sixth, then broke it open with five in the seventh.

The opener was much more palatable to the Jackets. Brody Syer and Trey Hopper combined for a one-hitter and Oxford took advantage of some loose defense by its opponent to win.

The only hit the pitchers allowed was a bloop single behind second base by Noah Fondren in the sixth inning.

Hopper had just entered the game because Syer had thrown 96 pitches. Syer didn’t allow a hit, but walked six before being lifted.

The Bearcats didn’t really come close to getting a hit off him. They put runners on second and third with no outs, but Hopper got out of it when his defense cut down the lead runner at the plate on a grounder to short and an inning-ending 1-6-3 double play.

“They pounded the zone,” Brooks said. “Brody started to lose it there a couple times, but he found it, then he started to lose it again, but he found it.

“You’re like why do you take a guy out with a no-hitter, but Hopper came in and held his own. We’re not giving any more free passes.”

The Jackets took a 1-0 lead in the first on Jacob Sears’ RBI double. They scored two in the second when they forced the Bearcats to throw the ball wildly around the infield and one in the fourth in a similar manner.

“We were on the attack mode,” Brooks said. “There’s a couple base runners that probably got thrown out, but we were playing to win, not playing not to lose.”

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