E.A. Sports Today

Donoho gets Game 1

Falcons confident early, take first game of Class 1A title series, can clinch it with a win at Riverwalk Wednesday

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

MONTGOMERY – Steve Gendron will jump on the dogpile. He’ll take the ice bucket bath. The outwardly reserved Donoho baseball coach is prepared for whatever comes if his Falcons win the Class 1A state championship Wednesday.

The Falcons are that close, but Gendron and the Falcons know there’s still some work to do before any of that celebratory stuff can take place.

Donoho moved within one win of its first ever state baseball title Tuesday night when it beat Bayshore Christian 6-3 in Game 1 of their best-of-three championship series at Paterson Field. The series moves to Riverwalk Stadium Wednesday at 4 p.m., with a winner-take-all “if” game immediately to follow if Bayshore (26-9) wins the early game.

“Any time you’re up 1-0 in a three-game series it’s a good spot to be in,” Gendron said. “But like I told our guys, they have been down before and we have been down before in a Game 1. We’re going to forget about this, go back to the hotel and crush some pizza. Forget about it and be ready to go tomorrow.”

The Falcons (24-10) are bidding to bring only the third state championship in baseball back to Calhoun County. Oxford won the 6A title in 2012 and Anniston won it all it 1958 when they were tying down bases with straps and spikes.

“You try not to think about it, of course, you want to get to it first, but it would be wonderful,” starting pitcher Slade Haney said. ‘It would be great for the school. It would be great for us, the boys. It’s exciting. I really hope we can get it done, but we’ve still got another game to play.”

The Falcons got what Gendron described as great games from Haney and Judson Billings.

Haney “pitched his tail off” for six innings and delivered two run-scoring extra-base hits at the plate. Billings drove in their first run, scored their second, made three nice defensive plays at first base and pitched a tense seventh inning that saw the Eagles load the bases and Cooper Schultze kept the inning alive by fouling off three straight payoff pitches before flying out to left to end the game.

Donoho never trailed and every time the Eagles scored in the middle innings the Falcons answered with a crooked number.

The Falcons struck first with a run in the first. Blake Willingham drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on a wild pitch. He went to third on Nic Thompson’s grounder to second and scored when Billings poked a two-strike opposite-field single to right.

It was Billings’ first hit since a first-inning single in Game 1 of the Marion County series, snapping an 0-for-13 slump. “So I was really excited,” he said.

Billings also made two nice defensive plays early in the game. He showed nice range to his right on Cole Dean’s grounder in the first inning and flipped it over his shoulder to Haney covering first. Then in the third he ran a long way into foul territory to snare Jace Jones’ pop fly with his back to the plate. He made another over-the-shoulder catch on Jones in the fifth inning.

“I always tell everyone I’m a wide receiver so I’m always like I have to prove it, catch the ball over the shoulder,” Billings said. “The sliding play was luck, I gotta be honest. A hundred percent luck.”

Bayshore tied it in the fourth. Luke Werneth doubled off the chalk in short left field with one out. He gambled when Billings caught another foul pop down the right field line, and Billings’ throw skipped past third baseman Tyler Allen allowing Werneth to score.

Billings made up for the error in the home half of the inning, though, when he left off with a double to left center and scored on Haney’s triple to the same spot. Lucas Elliott brought Haney home with a flare single over a drawn-in infield.

Bayshore cut it to 3-2 in the fifth on Mikael Bryant’s two-out RBI single to center. This time, Donoho answered with three runs. Nic Thompson singled home Blake Willingham, Haney doubled home Thompson and Lucas Elliott singled home a run to make it 6-2.

Despite being first-timers in the state championship series the Falcons played confidently until the nerves set in late in the game.

The Eagles threatened in the sixth, putting two on with one out and loading the bases with two outs, but Haney got out of it with a strikeout and a pop to the pitcher.

Haney was closing on his pitch limit so Gendron brought in Billings to pitch the seventh against the top of Bayshore’s order.

Steed Crooms led off with a single and Bryant doubled. Crooms tried to score from first but the Falcons gunned him at the plate. Bayshore coach Jeff Hauge apologized to his team after the game for sending the runner, saying, “I got a little greedy.”

A two-out infield error extended the inning. The Eagles loaded the bases with two more singles, then Billings and Schultze battled for the final out.

“It was tough tonight, but I just like the adversity,” Billings said. “I kind of like coming in in the heat of the moment. Starting the game is a little too boring for me.”

The teams certainly didn’t play like to of the youngest teams in the championship round. Bayshore’s roster includes one seventh grader, seven eighth-graders and a ninth-grader. Donoho has two seventh-graders, six eighth-graders and two ninth-graders.

But they have played in the postseason like veterans. Both were 8-1 in the playoffs entering the game, with Bayshore outscoring its opponents 79-27 and Donoho outscoring its opponents 76-16.

Donoho’s pitching has been spot on in the playoffs. The Falcons have thrown six complete games and given up 14 earned runs in 58 innings (a 1.69 ERA) with a 58-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Haney, who issued his first three walks of the playoffs in the Game 1 win over Sumiton Christian, walked the leadoff hitter in each of the first two innings, then got the next three batters each time to eliminate any threat. He ended up allowing five hits, one earned run and striking out six.

(Donoho leads series 1-0)
Donoho 6, Bayshore Christian 3
Bayshore               000 110 1  –  3 8 1
Donoho                  100 230 x  –  6 8 3

WP: Slade Haney. LP: Steed Crooms. 2B: Luke Werneth (B), Mikael Bryant (B), Judson Billings (D), Slade Haney (D). 3B: Slade Haney (D).

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