E.A. Sports Today

Winning warmth

Top-seeded Oxford wins Calhoun County baseball title in frigid Choccolocco Park, McCullough named MVP

Oxford first baseman Brennan McCullough had the go-ahead hit and played some slick defense earning tournament MVP honors. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD — Wes Brooks calls Brennan McCullough “the face” of this year’s Oxford baseball team. The Face was cold Tuesday night, along with all his other body parts.

But he was warm inside.

Nothing warms the heart of a player more than winning a tournament. The top-seeded Yellow Jackets put the frigid temperatures aside at Choccolocco Park and beat sixth-seeded Piedmont 5-3 to win the Calhoun County Baseball Tournament.

McCullough, Oxford’s junior first baseman, was named MVP. Teammate Nate Lloyd was named best offensive player of the tournament and Piedmont’s Easton Kirk was named best defensive player.

“I kept telling them it’s not that cold, it’s just the wind, stop talking about the cold,” McCullough said. “It was really just the wind. Once we got in here and kind of get away from the wind and stay moving, it’s really not that bad. (Winning in these conditions) makes you a lot warmer, that’s for sure.”

Jarin Turner, an Alabama commitment, tried to “zone out the weather” and pitched another complete game for the victory. He gave up five hits and struck out six in his fourth complete game of the season (4-0).

He retired nine of the last 11 batters he faced after the Bulldogs tied the game in the fifth inning.

“One thing that helps me a lot is letting my defense work,” Turner said. “I don’t come out here and try to overpower everybody. I come in here and try to lay it in there and let them get themselves out.”

The Jackets’ scored first with two in the second on Brody Syer’s wind-blown pop that was as high as it was long and fell safely in the infield and never trailed.

Piedmont did tie it 2-2 in the fourth after getting their first two runners into scoring position with one out and 3-3 in the fifth when Mike Rogers circled the bases on a triple-and-error combination, but Oxford scored two in the home fifth to take the lead for good.

McCullough drove in the go-ahead run with a single to left center and Turner drove in the insurance run behind him with a sacrifice fly. Not only did McCullough deliver a clutch hit, he made several sharp and smart defensive plays in the field.

When asked about his MVP award, McCullough said “it could have gone to anybody, really; there were a lot of guys who deserved it just as much as I did.”

McCullough started last year as a sophomore, too, but in the back of the Jackets’ lineup where he didn’t have many opportunities for RBIs. This year he’s moved up in the order and he’s making the most of his chances.

“He’s the face of Oxford High School baseball, this 2017 team,” Brooks said. “You always have that one guy who’s the face of your team. He’s the face of our team, he got the big hit in the sixth, made two great plays over here (at first).

“He comes early, stays late, does what’s expected of him. He holds the younger guys and the older guys and himself accountable to our culture. He’s just a great player on and off the field, offensively, defensively. He can pitch, too, and we just didn’t have to go with him.

“Last year it was Trey Hopper. He wasn’t going to hit bombs, he wasn’t going to strike everybody out, he wasn’t going to make all the plays, he was just that guy who put in the work every day. (McCullough will) be the first one there in the morning in the weight room. He’s just that guy.”

Oxford reached the finals by pummeling Alexandria 17-0. Piedmont reached the final by beating second-seeded Jacksonville 13-6.

Oxford right-hander Jarin Turner threw his fourth complete game of the season in pitching the Yellow Jackets to the Calhoun County title Tuesday night. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

Oxford 17, Alexandria 0
Alexandria 000 00 — 0 1 7
Oxford 447 2x — 17 11 0

WP: Brody Syer. LP: Griffin Carroll. 2B: Connor Syer (O), Brody Syer (O), Jarin Turner (O). 3B: Jarin Turner (O). HR: Nate Lloyd (O).

Piedmont 13, Jacksonville 6
Piedmont 102 343 0 — 13 12 5
Jacksonville 022 002 0 — 6 4 4

WP: Easton Kirk. LP: Colton Clark. 2B: Brant Deerman (J). 3B: Easton Kirk (P). HR: Taylor Morrow (P), Easton Kirk (P).

Oxford 5, Piedmont 3
Piedmont 000 210 0 — 3 5 1
Oxford 020 120 x — 5 6 4

WP: Jarin Turner. LP: Logan Pruitt. 2B: Heyden Lindsey (O). 3B: Michael Rogers (P).

Here’s the all-tournament team:
Jesse Sellers, Ohatchee
Brandt Denham, Wellborn
Chez Hulsey, White Plains
Brody Johnson, Saks
Austin Goode, Alexandria
Colin Casey, Jacksonville
Colton Clark, Jacksonville
Taylor Hayes, Piedmont
Derrick Baer, Piedmont
Easton Kirk, Piedmont
Derrick Miller, Oxford
Hayden Green, Oxford
Jarin Turner, Oxford
Brody Syer, Oxford
MVP — Brennan McCullough, Oxford

Oxford’s Nate Lloyd had two hits, including a homer, and scored four runs in the semifinals, and was named best offensive player of the tournament. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

Piedmont’s Easton Kirk, tipping his helmet after homering against Jacksonville, was named best defensive player of the tournament. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

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