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Kirk returns from knee injury to stroke a homer, pitch; Pleasant Valley cliches playoff spot; Ohatchee wins, Oxford falls

By East Alabama Sports Today

SPRING GARDEN – Piedmont senior Easton Kirk was anxious to return full time to the Bulldogs’ baseball lineup. He had missed the past couple of weeks with a right knee injury.

After having fluid drained off the knee last week, the versatile senior was ready to go Friday. And it was, indeed, a good Friday for him.

Kirk blasted a solo home run to right field in the top of the third inning and tossed six innings of two-hit ball for the win as the seventh-ranked 3A Bulldogs beat the ninth-ranked 1A Panthers 8-3.

“I think I’ve found my groove again,” he said. “I hit two balls hard today, so it felt pretty good, and it felt good to be on the mound again. My knee didn’t hurt me at all today, so I’m hoping I’m back 100 percent.”

So, too, are the Bulldogs (17-9). Kirk said he plans to return to catching Saturday against Cherokee County.

“We need his stick to get back going because he’s in the heart of our lineup,” Piedmont coach Matt Deerman said. “We kind of feed off of what he does.”

Someone else the Bulldogs feed off of is senior Taylor Hayes. Hayes had a perfect day at the plate, going 3-for-3 with a double and a walk. He also drove in two runs.

“It was good to bounce back (from Thursday’s 10-0 loss at Ohatchee) and get a win,” Hayes said. “Everybody has a game like that where everything goes wrong, and that’s what happened to us. We knew that wasn’t us. We just bounced back, hit the ball and got the win.”

Hayes led off Friday’s game at Spring Garden (17-6) with a walk. He later scored on Taylor Morrow’s single to left. Morrow went 2-for-4 with four RBIs.

Kirk led off the third with his towering homer to left field off Panther starter Christian Crider to make it 3-0. Spring Garden got on the board in the bottom half of the third with a RBI-single to left from Ben Ivey that scored Joe Rogers.

Piedmont scored four more runs in the top of the fourth on a run-scoring single to center from Hayes and a three-run double to left center by Morrow off Panther reliever Dawson Broome. Hayes extended Piedmont’s lead to 8-1 an inning later on his run-scoring double to right.

Both teams will host a first-round state playoff series beginning Friday. Piedmont entertains New Hope, while Spring Garden hosts Vina.

“It’s important to get momentum this time of year,” Deerman said. “I keep telling them the highlight of our season can’t be being runner-up in the county tournament and beating some bigger schools. A coach’s biggest fear is peaking at the wrong time. We got away with playing sloppy for two weeks and got some wins. It caught up with us (Thursday against Ohatchee), but today was a step forward.” – Shannon Fagan, Cherokee County Herald

Piedmont 8, Spring Garden 3
Piedmont 201 410 0 — 8 9 3
Spring Garden 001 001 1 — 3 3 1

WP: Easton Kirk. LP: Christian Crider. 2B: Taylor Hayes (P), Taylor Morrow (P). HR: Easton Kirk (P).

Pleasant Valley 14, Glencoe 10: Triston Salster hit two doubles in an eight-run third inning that gave the Raiders the lead for good and allowed them to clinch the second Class 3A playoff spot from Area 10.

The Raiders trailed 6-4 when they sent 15 batters to the plate in their big inning. They had six hits and four walks to fuel the rally. Every spot in the lineup reached base at least once in the game as the Yellow Jackets’ pitchers struggled with their control; there were nine walks and four hit batsmen.

“Hats off to Glencoe for a hard fought game,” PV coach Chris Youngman said. “They got us down early and we struggled a little on the mound, but our guys kept their heads up and just kept fighting.

“We got the lead and then lost it and when we got it back we kept it. We had great focus at the plate and competed the whole game. I’m really proud of our effort and attitude tonight.”

Ohatchee 12, Gaston 3: Jaylon Jenkins hit his ninth homer of the season and two Ohatchee pitchers allowed only two hits. Jenkins blasted a two-run homer in the Indians’ nine-run fourth inning that erased a 3-2 deficit. Taylor Eubanks and Austin Tucker also drove in a pair of runs in the big inning. Baylee Graham had two hits in the game. Eubanks started on the mound for the Indians and gave up the two hits. Larry Noah pitched four innings of no-hit relief behind him.

Ohatchee 12, Gaston 3
Ohatchee 020 910 0 — 12 7 1
Gaston 111 000 0 — 3 2 2

WP: Taylor Eubanks. 2B: Grayson Alward (O). HR: Jaylon Jenkins (O).

Auburn 5, Oxford 1: Carter Hunt’s two-run single snapped a 1-1 tie and gave the Tigers the lead for good. Brooks Fuller extended the lead with a two-run single in the fifth. Caden Higgins had two of the Yellow Jackets’ six hits. He led off the game with a double and scored the Jackets’ only run on Nate Lloyd’s ground out.

Auburn 5, Oxford 1
Oxford 100 000 0 — 1 6 1
Auburn 010 220 x — 5 6 0

WP: Ryan Lambert. LP: Jarin Turner. 2B: Caden Higgins (O), Brody Syer (O), Judd Moore (O), Teddy Benda (A). 3B: Clay Golson (A).

Cover photo of Piedmont’s Easton Kirk courtesy of Shannon Fagan.

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