E.A. Sports Today

Piedmont wins opener

Bulldogs use speed and a little luck to score 4 in second inning, take Game 1 of 3A title series from Trinity Presbyterian

Piedmont’s Sloan Smith slides in with the second run off Max Hanson’s infield single before Trinity Presbyterian catcher Grayson Ashe can get around to make a tag. (AHSAA photo by Marvin Gentry)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — Max Hanson couldn’t have been prouder to see his dad throw out the ceremonial first pitch in Piedmont’s Class 3A state final opener Monday night. No doubt, the father was equally proud of how his son delivered in the game.

Shortly after his father Chris delivered a high strike from the grass in front of the mound, Max, the Bulldogs’ speedy centerfielder, legged out an infield single that produced the first two runs in a four-run second inning that lifted his team to a 4-2 win over Trinity Presbyterian in Game 1 of the series at Jacksonville State.

“That was awesome; to see my dad throw out the first pitch, it was just great,” Hanson said. “I was waiting for it the whole day.

“On the hit, it was crazy to get two runs to score. Austin (Estes) struck out on a tough pitch before and I told him as I was walking up there I’ve got you, man. You’ve had my back all year, I got you. And I got a hit.”

Piedmont coach Matt Deerman has brought the Bulldogs to the finals four times (2012 as an assistant vs. Trinity, 2017, 2019 and 2022) and this is the first time they’ve won the series opener. They were swept by the Wildcats in 2012.

Game Two is 10 a.m. here Tuesday with a Game 3 if necessary to follow. The Bulldogs (37-5) are one win away from their first ever state baseball title and sophomore infielder Trevor Pike’s 12 celebratory backflips.

Twice in the playoffs the year Trinity Presbyterian (31-7) has dropped the series opener and come back to advance. To do it Tuesday, they’ll have their seventh state title and first since 2015.

Neither coach announced their Game 2 starter. Jack Hayes going the distance gives the Bulldogs more options, but Cassius Fairs tweaked an ankle injury late in the game and his availability for Tuesday wasn’t immediately certain. Beyond that, they have their full complement of arms.

Hayes, meanwhile, allowed nine hits, struck out four and pitched out of several minor threats in the game thanks in part to his catcher Kale Austin, a freshman who Deerman says plays well beyond his years. Deerman was ready to go to the bullpen late in the game, but Hayes said he could finish it and did in 92 pitches.

The Bulldogs used their speed and a little luck to score their four in the second. They loaded the bases against Trinity right-hander Ben Easterling with one out when Ridge Fagan was hit by a pitch, Sloan Smith drew a four-pitch walk and Fairs pushed a bunt up the right side and beat it out for the single.

It brought the top of the order to the plate. Easterling fanned Estes, then Hanson bounced a ball to the left side that was cut off before the cutout by third baseman Brady Rascoll, who might have thought he had a play at second. He didn’t.

Fagan scored, Hanson easily beat the throw to first and Smith scored all the way from second base to make it 2-0.

“We had four goals on our list this year,” Deerman said. “Not giving up free bases is one of them and the another is to win the run game. That was one of the big things today. Cash lays down a perfect bunt, gets the bases loaded and gets to the top of our order. Little things like that have helped us all year long.

“The speed and being aggressive on the base paths are one of the things that made us really good this year. Sloan had no doubt when that ball was put in play he was going to the plate because we do that all year – we try to put pressure on people to make them make plays. As soon as it came off the bat in his mind he knew what he was going to do.”

Wildcats right fielder Chris Bryan then dropped Hayes’ routine fly that would’ve been the final out of the inning and two more runs scored.

“I really got lucky on that one,” Hayes said. “I thought I definitely flew out to end the inning.”

Trinity cut Piedmont’s lead in half with two in the fourth. Grayson Ashe reached on a leadoff infield single after the umpires called him back to the plate on checked swing third strike, courtesy runner Webber McClinton moved around the infield and scored on Bryan’s sharp single up the middle. Bryan then scored on an RBI single by Jordan Jenkins.

The Wildcats didn’t come close to scoring again.

“At the end of the day we just didn’t do enough early,” Trinity coach Jarrod Cook said. “There’s no panic on our part. At the end of the day we’ve got to go out and make more plays than they do. We’ll come out ready to play (Tuesday). We will.”

The game, the only one Monday in what will be a busy week of state championship games here and at Choccolocco Park, drew a crowd of 1,842.

Piedmont 4, Trinity Presbyterian 2

Simmons Bryd3020Austin Estes3000
Mac McClinton4000Max Hanson3112
Grayson Ashe3010Jack Hayes3010
Webb McClinton1100Trevor Pike0000
Ben Easterling3020Noah Reedy3010
Wilson Albrecht0000McClane Mohon2000
David Lieux3010Jake Austin3000
Chris Bryan3111Ridge Fagan2110
Brady Rascoll3010Sloan Smith1100
Jordan Jenkins3011Cassius Fairs2110
Fleming Hall2000Omarion Foster1000
Kale Austin0000
Trinity00020002 9 1
Piedmont040000x4 5 0

E: Bryant. DP: Piedmont 1. LOB: Trinity 6, Piedmont 5. HBP: Fagan (by Easterling). SB: W. McClinton. A: 1,842.

Ben Easterling (L, 9-2)654226
Jack Hayes (W, 8-0)792214

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