E.A. Sports Today

Bashing the ball

Piedmont ramps up the offense, makes the lineup stronger by bumping its power hitters higher in the order

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

PIEDMONT — When Matt Deerman had his Piedmont baseball team together for the first time, the things he thought would going to make the Bulldogs successful in his first year were strong pitching and good defense.

Hitting they’d get where they could as they came around from another long basketball season.

Around about midseason he was eating his words.

The pitching and defense were there but the Bulldogs were bashing the baseball — and they still are. Going into Friday’s Class 3A playoff series at West Morgan, they were hitting .322 as a team, averaging seven runs a game and had hit 21 home runs. They have a 10:1 runs-to-wins ratio and a 1:1 homer-to-win ratio.

The heart of their order — Easton Kirk and Taylor Morrow — have combined for 17 blasts. They’ve gone back-to-back once, against Jacksonville in the Calhoun County Tournament, and one time, when Cleburne County intentionally walked Kirk to load the bases, Morrow followed with a grand slam.

“It’s just been nice to have him behind me to back me up so if people do try to walk me I have confidence in him getting a hit or hitting one long, making them pay for it,” Kirk said.

But the Bulldogs version of the Bash Brothers have recently turned into Clouting Cousins — literally. Since the final week of the regular season Kirk and Morrow have moved from 3 and 4 in the lineup to 2-3 behind Taylor Hayes, with Derrick Baer or Bailey Graves in the cleanup spot.

Hayes, Kirk and Morrow — all cousins — are batting .485, .522 and .362 respectively and have combined for 18 homers and 96 RBIs. In the three games since Deerman put them 1-2-3, they are 14-for-26 with eight RBIs. They were 10-of-17 with six RBIs in their series sweep of New Hope last weekend, 6-for-8 with five RBIs in the clincher.

“This goes completely against my strategy,” Deerman said. “I’m an A-B-C guy — get ’em on, get ’em over, get em in. I flipped the order this year to make it top-heavy, and the reason I did that is they’ve had such outstanding years if anybody in the bottom of the order gets on then you’ve got to face those three guys in a row and it puts a whole heck of a lot of pressure on the pitcher.”

“I really like it,” Kirk said. “As long as the bottom guys are producing it’s a really good move. It’s still a good move if they’re not, but if the bottom guys get on, we have Hayes and then me. That’s a good chance to score a run if one of those guys gets on, especially since they’re fast; a double to the fence will probably score one of them.”

Kirk came into the season a bona fide slugger. He won the home run derby at a national showcase over the winter and he hasn’t stopped hitting since. A year ago it was his job to protect Peyton Young and while he didn’t hit nearly as many homers he still produced 48 RBIs.

That role has fallen onto Morrow this year and the junior has flourished in it. Deerman figures in addition to his power numbers Morrow is hitting .500 in at-bats that follow an intentional walk to Kirk; remember the grand slam against Heflin?

“He has made people think twice about intentionally walking Easton,” Deerman said. “The numbers Morrow have put up have been a pleasant surprise. I knew he was a great hitter, but as far as the power goes I didn’t know he was going to put up the home run numbers he has this year. I thought he’d be more of a doubles guy and he’s been more of an average-and-home-run guy.”

The power has always been there, Morrow said, he just couldn’t get it out. In his two years at White Plains before transferring to the Bulldogs this season he hit only one homer. He credits his surroundings and hitting around guys like Kirk and Hayes, who he calls “the two most competitive people I’ve ever met,” for unleashing his swing.

“I think it was just getting comfortable,” he said. “Last year wasn’t as comfortable for me and being here with these guys just really helped me open up as a batter. It just set a fire to me to want to be better. The comfort level is there now. It’s like family.”

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Cover photo: Easton Kirk (L) and Taylor Morrow are Piedmont’s version of the Bash Brothers, combining for 17 homers and 72 RBIs this season.

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