E.A. Sports Today

Cubs keep it going

Alexandria survives ‘hairy’ final inning in nightcap to complete sweep of John Carroll, advances to third round 

Alexandria pitcher Andrew Allen puts the finishing touches on a four-hitter in Friday’s series opener with John Carroll.

Holtville 4-4, Demopolis 1-1
UMS-Wright 4-6, Andalusia 0-5
Headland 2-7, Elberta 0-1
Shelby County 9-4, Pike Road 4-1
Russellville 4-10, St. Clair County 1-0
Leeds 4-2, Hayden 2-1
Alexandria 5-10, John Carroll 1-7
Madison Academy 2-3, Corner 1-4 (Game 3, Sat., 1 p.m.)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Alexandria’s combination Blonde Ambition and Andy Shaw Farewell Tours extended their engagement for another week Friday night. And now they’re taking the run on the road.

The Valley Cubs, held together by bleached blonde hair, a basketball goal, a stuffed turkey and their coach’s impending departure, swept John Carroll in the second round of the Class 5A baseball playoffs, 5-1 and 10-7, in what are believed to be their last games at Kevin “Byrd” Welch Field at Andy Shaw Stadium this season.

The Cubs (24-13) will travel to the winner of Saturday’s Madison Academy-Corner Game 3 for the state quarterfinals and are likely to be on the road in the state semifinals series if they make it that far.

The Cubs are playing to keep Shaw around as long as possible. Last week, East Alabama Sports Today first reported Shaw’s plan to retire at the end of the season. Neither he nor the players want to talk about it much, preferring to focus on the moment at hand, but it’s hard to ignore the legacy of a coach who has been in the dugout for 30 years.

Understandably, the players want to delay his retirement as long as possible, if for no other reason than to see Shaw fulfill a promise to wear his hair in a Mohawk if they make the state finals.

“We love Coach Shaw; we’re trying to make it the best last year he’s got coaching baseball,” first baseman Austin Jeffers said. ‘I just know if we lose it’s not just over for the seniors, it’s over for him too. It’s something we don’t want to deal with. I know he doesn’t.”

The Cubs scored the sweep on the 39th birthday of assistant coach Zac Welch, the presumptive successor to the helm.

The Cubs won the first game behind a complete game from sophomore right-hander Andrew Allen and were guaranteed no worse than a split Friday with plenty of pitching in reserve. They had a comfortable lead in the nightcap, too, until things got dicey late.

The Cubs were leading 10-2 in the sixth, but the Cavaliers rallied after left-hander Tripp Patterson was lifted for reaching his sophomore pitch limit. The Cavs got two in the inning, then loaded the bases in the seventh, scored three runs without getting a hit and had the winning run at the plate twice with the top of order coming to bat.

Second reliever Ian Cartwright came in from right field and got leadoff hitter Aden Malpass to pop out to short for the second out of the inning. The game ended on a dramatic play when Jeffers dove to his right for sharp grounder that was headed for right field and after getting to his feet outraced William Gignilliat to the bag, diving in just ahead of the runner for the final out.

“I was ready to go home,” Jeffers said. “I was trying to tell our second baseman don’t let anything get between us and he never looked at me. I played over this way and, sure enough, he hit it there. I laid out and it wound up in my glove and I hoofed it to first.”

“I’m glad he made that play,” Cartwright said.

Cartwright and Jeffers were involved in another big play in the third inning to keep the Cavs from tying the game. Cartwright flagged down Hayden Dupre’s shot to right and got it to Jeffers, who relayed it to catcher Aiden Bruner, tagged out Max Plaia at the plate to keep it a 3-2 game.

It remained a one-run game until the fifth when Aaron Johnson delivered a two-run single to make it 5-2. Cartwright’s two-run double highlighted a four-run sixth that made it 9-2 and Bruner brought home a run in the seventh with a ground out.

“It got hairy there,” Shaw said. “But we kept competing and got the win. We knew it was going to be a tough game.”

In the opener Allen gave up a run in the first inning, then slammed the door. He gave up three hits over the final six innings (four total) and allowed only five runners into scoring position. Jeffers had a two-run single in the home half of the first and Bruner went 3-for-3.

Because they were able to find a way the Cubs get to stay together with their beloved coach a while longer. As is his way, Shaw deflects any attention from the end of his run to the one his team is currently making on his behalf.

“This is about the kids; I get to spend another week with them and these coaches, that’s big,” he said. “Right now the focus is just winning each week. I don’t want any distractions on them. We don’t talk about it. We’ll wrap it up when it’s over but for now we want to go as far as we can. I just want them to be able to experience as much of this as they can.”

John Carroll         100 000 0 –  1  4  2
Alexandria           301 001 x –  5  7  4
WP: Andrew Allen. LP: William Gignilliat. 2B: Ian Cartwright (A).

Alexandria           021 024 1  –  10  12  5
John Carroll         011 002 3  –    7    6   1
WP: Tripp Patterson. LP: Tyler Black. 2B: Austin West 2 (A), Aiden Bruner (A), Ian Cartwright (A).

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