E.A. Sports Today

Pats end Jackets’ road

Homewood reliever shuts down Oxford’s bid for seventh-inning rally, slams the door on 9-6 playoff loss that ends Jackets’ season

By Kyle Parmley
Special to East Alabama Sports Today

HOMEWOOD – It was Hunter time.

After the first three Oxford High School hitters reached base in the seventh inning of Saturday’s deciding Game 3, Homewood coach Doug Gann went to his bullpen and called on junior left-hander Hunter Keim.

The move paid off as Keim slammed the door on the inning, the game and Oxford’s season, preserving the Patriots’ 9-6 victory advancing them to the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs.

“Throw strikes,” Keim said of his approach after entering the game with the bases loaded and no outs. “That’s the name of the game. I had to do it last night, and had to do it today.”

Keim pitched in Game 2 – a 12-1 Oxford victory – Friday night, in a much less stressful situation. This time, though, he had to settle himself down.

“Breathe; just tell yourself to stay calm and throw strikes,” Keim said.

The biggest three outs of Homewood’s season came on an arm that not many would have suspected at the outset of the season, with the Patriots using upwards of eight or nine senior pitchers.

“Unbelievable,” Gann said of Keim’s save. “He’s a great kid, number one, and this year, with our senior-laden pitching staff, he hadn’t had a whole lot of opportunities.”

After coaxing a fly out to left field for the first out, Keim did walk Garrett Heard with the bases loaded to bring home a run and the potential winning run into the batter’s box.

The next batter, Jarin Turner, took a pitch and drove it deep down the left field line, bringing the Oxford dugout to its feet thinking it may have been a game-winning grand slam. But it sailed foul.

“I knew as soon as he hit it that it was foul,” Keim said.

Keim wound up striking out Turner and Caden Higgins looking to end the ball game and lift Homewood to a first-round series win for the second consecutive season. Oxford defeated Homewood in three games in the second round in 2016.

Homewood took the lead for good in the fifth inning, as Mike McClung blasted an opposite-field, two-run homer to right field to break a 5-5 tie and give the Patriots a 7-5 lead.

McClung was the first batter Turner faced, and the third pitcher of the day for Oxford. The Yellow Jackets pulled Turner after 2 1/3 innings in Game 2 Friday, since Oxford had a huge lead, in order to preserve his availability for Saturday. Even though Turner allowed just one hit Friday, the Patriots had seen him before.

“We didn’t think anything of it, because we saw him last night,” McClung said. “I just went in there and knew what I saw last night, and went with that.”

Homewood tacked on additional runs in the sixth and seventh innings, as Ben Teel stroked an RBI single and Jacob Fitts drove in a run on a fielder’s choice.

“It was great,” Gann said of McClung’s homer. “It was a big hit. He’s been a great hitter for us this year and has driven in a lot of runs for us. We had a lot of people have big hits for us today.”

The Patriots were feeling great about themselves after they took a 5-2 lead in the fourth inning, including a stroke of good fortune. With two on and one out, Sam Dantone hit a grounder to first base. The play looked to be routine, but the ball hit the lip of the grass and shot over the first baseman’s head into right field, allowing a run to score.

Fitts followed Dantone with a run-scoring groundout, and John Marc Mullins drove in courtesy runner Trey Sims to give Homewood the three-run lead.

Oxford battled back in the bottom half, though. Nate Lloyd came through in a big spot, as he smacked his second home run of the series, this one of the three-run variety that wrapped around the right field foul pole and tied the game at 5-5.

“We just had to keep playing,” Gann said. “We were feeling really good about ourselves at 5-2, then we give up a two-out, three-run homer…I was real proud of our at-bats and how we competed there down the stretch.”

Oxford attempted to fight back in the bottom of the fifth after McClung’s bomb, but the rally faltered after center fielder Sam Ferren gunned down Reese Howard at the plate on a Jack Peavey base hit, as Homewood held onto its 7-5 margin.

Homewood struck first in the second inning, as Fitts’ drove home Ryan Williams and Sims with a double to left-center field for the 2-0 edge. Fitts finished the day with just one hit, but he drove in four runs. Williams reached all four times up on Saturday, with two hits and a walk along with reaching on an error.

Brody Syer and Jacob Sears chipped in back-to-back RBI singles for Oxford to tie the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the third.

Mullins got the start on the mound for Homewood. In his four innings, he surrendered six hits, five runs and four walks. Fitts went two-plus innings, as he worked the fifth and sixth innings before running into trouble in the seventh. He allowed three hits and three walks, with two strikeouts.

Hayden Green started for Oxford, and allowed two runs on the one hit (Fitts’ double). Sears went an inning and allowed four runs (three earned), before giving the ball to Turner the rest of the way.

Kyle Parmley is sports editor of the Homewood Star.

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