E.A. Sports Today

Staying alive

5A Alexandria, 1A Donoho win second games of their respective playoff doubleheaders, force Game 3 Saturday

Friday’s county playoff scores
1A: Lindsay Lane 2-2, Donoho 1-3 (Game 3, Sat., 1 p.m.)
3A: Piedmont 12-6, Sylvania 6-1
3A: Fyffe 4-6, Ohatchee 2-4
5A: Ardmore 3-6, Alexandria 1-12 (Game 3, Sat., noon)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

The mindset of a team going into the third game of a best-of-three playoff series is as important as anything they do between the white lines in the game.

With that in mind, Alexandria and Donoho have to be feeling pretty good about themselves going into Saturday’s Game 3 after both won the nightcap of their respective playoff doubleheaders Friday to force series-clinching games. Certainly better than if they had won the opener and let their opponent back in it in the nightcap.

Alexandria erupted for eight runs in the top of the eighth inning to put away Ardmore 12-6 after getting one-hit by Mississippi State signee Cole Cheatham and a reliever in the first game of their Class 5A series 4-2.

Donoho, meanwhile, hit two home runs, including Judson Billings’ tie-breaking blast in the sixth inning, to beat Lindsay Lane 3-2 after dropping the opener of their Class 1A series 2-1.

Donoho coach Steve Gendron said winning Game 2 was a “big boost” to his team’s morale.

“The way we finished the game there, I thought we hit it well and we ought to have some confidence going into tomorrow,” Alexandria coach Andy Shaw said. “Our kids know they can play with them.

“We’re just trying to battle through it and try to learn how to compete in all circumstances and our kids are buying into that. As young as we are – we only have three guys who were on this team last year – we’re learning every game. Maybe we’re just dumb enough that we can just keep on going.”

It’s the second playoff weekend in a row the Valley Cubs (22-14) rallied in their last bats to win Game 2 and force a winner-take-all rubber game. The winner Saturday faces either Russellville (36-6) or Corner (19-14), who’ll be playing their own Game 3 Saturday.

The Valley Cubs’ big inning in the nightcap belied anything that took place in the doubleheader before it. They sent 13 batters to the plate against three Ardmore pitchers and weaved a couple of big pinch-hits among three hit batsmen, two walks and two errors.

The first two batters of the inning got hit by pitches and they moved up on a wild pitch. Shaw brought Zachary Baskins off the bench to pinch hit and the freshman ripped the first pitch he saw through the hole at short to put the Cubs ahead 5-4.

“Our coaches are always telling us to control your emotions, the next at-bat is going to be the most important,” Baskins said. “You might have struck out your first two or three at-bats, but that fourth one in the last inning that’s the one that matters the most.

“I was up there trying to stay as relaxed as I could being cold off the bench and he threw me a good pitch and just instinct took over.”

After a walk loaded the bases and brought the first pitching change of the inning, the second run scored on a wild pitch. Sam Wade then got hit – for the second time in the game and 25ththis season (the state record is 29) – to reload the bases and Austin West followed with a single to right that scored two more.

Canyon Mickler drew a bases-loaded walk to force home another run and bring another pitching change. The Cubs scored another run when the Tigers couldn’t get the force at home on Jake Upton’s grounder to short and pinch-hitter Drew Brown capped it off with a two-run single.

“They set the table for us and we finally got a big hit there,” Shaw said. “We were just looking for somebody to square one up and we finally broke loose there. We finally squared some balls up and I hope it carries into tomorrow.”

Wesley Wright gave the Cubs 7 1/3 good innings on the mound before giving way to Ryan Ritchie for the final two outs. He gave up five hits and struck out four.

“He’s done it all year,” Shaw said. “He’s a high-character kid who just gives us a chance to win every time. “

The Tigers could say the same about Cheatham. The 6-foot-2 lefthander was bringing the heat in the opener and despite all the Valley Cubs were doing to get into his head – challenging his pitching style and where he toed the pitching rubber – the only hit he allowed was a fourth-inning single by Mickler. He’s given up only four hits in his last four starts.

He lost the plate some in the second – hitting a batter and walking three straight to force in the game’s first run – but he still struck out the side and had a no-hitter going for 3 1/3. His 11 strikeouts gave him 114 in 50 1/3 innings this season.

“I felt like I was on other than that one inning where I walked a couple people, but that happens every now and then, my adrenaline gets a little too high, but other than that I feel like I was pretty on,” he said. “They were just trying to get in my head, but it didn’t really affect me. I know how I am and then I just make them shut up, give them nothing to talk about. As soon as we got the lead they stopped talking.”

He made that happen, too. For the ultimate irony, Cheatham delivered the two-run single on a payoff pitch with bases loaded in the fourth that gave the Tigers a 3-1 lead.

Donoho: Billings’ bomb breaks tie

After struggling to scratch out a run in the opener, the Falcons played long ball in the nightcap to earn their split.

Lucas Elliott launched a two-run shot in the fourth inning to give them the lead and Billings hit a shot to left leading off the sixth after the Lions (20-11) tied the game in the fifth.

The Falcons (18-10) are 3-2 in one-run games this season and have won five of their last seven decided by two runs or fewer. 

“Going up to the plate when I hit the bomb, Skip (Gendron) looked at me and said, ‘You’ve been early all day, when are you going to change it?’” said Billings, who was hitless in first five at-bats of the doubleheader. “I responded with the same thing I did before the White Plains walk-off. I said, ‘I got it. I’m better than you ever were’ as a joke because we have a great relationship.

“I’m just real excited to get the chance to keep grinding to make it to the next round.”

Blake Willingham outdueled Micah Perkins on the mound for the victory. Both pitchers went the distance with Willingham allowing five hits and striking out four. Perkins, who got the final two outs in the opener on seven pitches, gave up four hits and struck out 10.

The series opener was just as intense. Lions starter Ray Anderson gave up two hits and struck out 14 in 5 1/3 innings. Donoho’s Slade Haney gave up four hits, one earned run and struck out seven in going the distance.

Anderson gave up an opposite-field double and walk to the first two Falcons he faced, then the left-hander struck out the next eight in a row and 10 of the next 11 batters. He was pulled in the sixth after 106 pitches.

The Lions scored their runs on a couple infield errors in the second and Samuel Hogue’s leadoff homer in the fourth. Donoho scored its run in the sixth (charged to Anderson) when Connor Goodson beat the relay on his potential inning-ending bases-loaded double-play grounder off middle reliever Seth Mitchell. The Falcons left the tying run stranded at third.

“It was a classic No. 1 vs. No. 1 pitching arm playoff game,” Gendron said. “They hit a ball out of the park on a good swing and we had a bunt we threw to third (when) we should’ve gone (to first). We’ve been preaching all week about fundamentals.

“It was good to see us get see some life when they brought those righties in. Obviously, we need to put the ball in play for good things to happen.”

Billings called both games “insanely intense” and anticipates another battle Saturday.

“We knew going into it they would be tough and both teams came in with a killer mentality,” he said. “I’m just ready for tomorrow. Leave today in the past and come in with a fresh start and light it up on the mound and at the dish.”

Game 1
Lindsay Lane 2, Donoho 1
Lindsay Lane       010 100 0 – 2 4 3

Donoho                  000 001 0 – 1 3 2
WP: Ray Anderson. LP: Slade Haney. 2B: Blake Willingham (D). HR: Samuel Hogue (LL).

Game 2
Donoho 3, Lindsay Lane 2
Donoho                  000 201 0 – 3 4 3

Lindsay Lane       000 020 0 – 2 5 2
WP: Blake Willingham. LP: Micah Perkins. 2B: Ben Frasier (LL). HR: Lucas Elliott (D), Judson Billings (D).

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