E.A. Sports Today

Making more history

Ohatchee wins its first baseball playoff series in 32 years, sweeping Carbon Hill in Class 3A opening round

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

OHATCHEE – Each of the past three seasons the Ohatchee baseball team has done something to raise the bar on its program’s history.

First, it was just getting into the playoffs as one of the two area representatives. Then it was winning an area championship and hosting a playoff series. Friday night, the Indians did something even more historic.

They won their first baseball playoff series in more than three decades when they swept Carbon Hill in Class 3A opening round 8-2 and 9-7.

“Amazing,” pitcher-outfielder Grayson Alward said. “It’s the best feeling ever, moving on in the playoffs.”

The Indians now await the winner of Saturday’s Pleasant Valley-Locust Fork rubber game to determine who they’ll play in a place none of them have ever been before. All they know for now is it’s going to be on the road.

“Three straight years in the playoffs and we finally won one, it’s a long time coming,” catcher Jesse Sellers said. “We kind of felt it was about time, you could say.”

The last time the Indians won a playoff series was 1986, the last time they won an area championship before last year. They came close last year, winning the opening game against Plainview, only to lose a heartbreaker in the nightcap and then a reasonable lead late in Game 3 the next day.

“It’s meaningful to the community, the older people of Ohatchee, but to these guys, they’ve been fighting, they’ve been battling, to get to this point,” Indians coach Blake Jennings said. “To me, just to bring it back, that’s the big deal.

“That was the thing we talked about at the beginning of the year. We always have a goal to win the area championship. When we got to practice on Tuesday it was all right we made that goal happen now the next step is in front of us. We’ve got to win a playoff series; win one, and keep going.

“One thing we’ve said was going to be our playoff mantra was ‘Hungry dogs run faster,’ and that’s what they’ve been breaking down on all day long – dogs. Stay hungry and keep moving on. Survive and advance. We have some seniors here who could have two games left.”

The Indians actually came from behind to win the first game. Then they had to hold on to win the second.

They fell behind 2-0 in the first inning of the opener, but took the lead in the second on Larry Noah’s two-double and Kevin Williamson’s RBI single and broke it open with five in the fourth. Alward crushed a three-run homer in the big inning and then made a brilliant, if not embellished, sliding catch in center field for the first out of the seventh inning.

He then pitched five strong innings to start the nightcap before Carbon Hill rallied in the sixth behind some shaky Ohatchee defense to make things interesting. Alward allowed one hit – an RBI double in the third – and four base runners through the first five innings, but the Bulldogs reached him for five runs in the sixth after Ohatchee made a series of errors in the field.

Fortunately for the Indians, they had a 9-1 lead at the time.

Alward didn’t know he was going to pitch the second game until right before game time, but Jennings knew all along if the Indians won the opener the senior right-hander was going to start Game Two as they tried to hold out using ace Larry Noah for as long as possible.

They did go with Noah in the seventh in an attempt to close it out, but under the condition of throwing a limited number of pitches in case the lead didn’t hold and the series went to a third game. The game wasn’t over when Noah reached his pitch limit, but Briley Hale came in and got the final out to touch off the victory celebration that included a backflip by Alward in the infield.

“Briley has pitched really well for me since the day we played White Plains and he got beat 13-3,” Jennings said. “He walked three guys in a row and he has done nothing but work. For the past three weeks that kid has been great for us.”

Speaking of strong pitching, Blake Buckelew bounced back from a shaky first inning in the opener to blank the Bulldogs over the final six innings and give the Indians a chance to control the series. He gave up only four hits the rest of the way and struck out five.

“The first inning I was really nervous because I had never pitched in a playoff game,” Buckelew said. “I had butterflies. I didn’t know how this team was, never seen them, never heard about them, didn’t know how they were going to react, didn’t know how I was going to throw this day. Then I started to get more comfortable while I was up there and I started throwing better as the game went on.”

Game One
Carbon Hill 200 000 0 – 2 7 3
Ohatchee 030 500 x – 8 11 0

WP: Buckelew. LP: Wright. 2B: Noah (O), Sellers (O). HR: Alward (O).

Game Two
Ohatchee 110 403 0 – 9 6 6
Carbon Hill 001 005 1 – 7 6 7

WP: Alward. LP: Lawrence. 2B: Ivie (CH).

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