E.A. Sports Today

Spring Experience

Hayes leads the way as Piedmont overcomes 6-foot-6 Oregon State-bound pitcher Palmer, one of Colorado’s top Class 4A teams

Piedmont’s Jack Hayes battles Golden (Colo.) pitcher Laif Palmer during their Oxford Spring Experience game Thursday at Choccolocco Park. Piedmont won 4-3 in eight innings. (Photo by Joe Medley)

By Joe Medley
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD — It’s not every day that area high school baseball batters take on a high-school facsimile of Randy Johnson, but one came from far away to take the mound on Oxford’s signature field Thursday.

Piedmont found a way to win.

Jack Hayes came home from second base on Jake Austin’s ground ball up the middle, and the Bulldogs beat Golden (Colo.) 4-3 in eight innings in an Oxford Spring Experience game.

Piedmont (9-4) managed four hits off of 6-foot-6 Golden pitcher Laif Palmer, an Oregon State signee, but took advantage of three errors and five walks with aggressive base running to win.

Piedmont also got strong pitching from starter Brodie Homesley and reliever Sloan Smith to keep the Bulldogs in the game.

Homesley pitched six innings with five strikeouts, and Smith struck out one batter while working a scoreless seventh and eighth,

“That’s what I told Brodie,” Piedmont coach Matt Deerman said. “I said, ‘If you can keep us in the game until we can get that guy out, we’re going to have a chance.

“He went out when it was 3-3, and Sloan came in. Heck they got the lead-off on against twice, and he didn’t give up a run.”

Golden (Colo.) pitcher Laif Palmer lets fly against Piedmont on Thursday. He struck out five batters and allowed two hits in five innings of work. (Photo by Joe Medley)

A Class 4A team out of five Colorado classifications and ranked No. 2, Golden (2-2) traveled to play in the Spring Experience for the second year in a row. The Demons lost to Oxford 12-0 on Wednesday.

“We saw Oxford, and they’re really good,” Golden coach Jackie McBroom said. “We saw these guys, and we’ll see Cullman tomorrow.

“They (Piedmont) are a scrappy little team. They’re not going to beat themselves. You’ve got to beat them. They take advantage of mistakes that you make. We made some mistakes, and they took advantage, and they didn’t return the favor.”

Palmer got his turn on the mound Thursday and worked five innings, throwing 62 strikes out of 101 pitches. He allowed two hits and struck out five batters.

“I could’ve done a lot better today,” he said. “I did OK in the first four and lost it in the fifth. I’m disappointed, but it happens. It’s baseball.”

Palmer called Hayes “a tough out.”

“He just competed at the plate and got on my fastball, made me work,” he said.

Hayes had the most success against him. Hayes hit an RBI single to put Piedmont up 1-0 in the bottom of the first and drove a ball to the warning track in right-center field in his next at bat, only to see Golden center fielder Xavier Nuss make a diving catch.

Hayes said he saw mostly fastballs from Palmer.

“I think he was trying to beat me with the fastball after I got that first hit on him,” Hayes said. “I think it made him kind of mad, and he tried to rev it up a little bit.”

Piedmont took a 3-1 lead with two runs in the fifth inning,

Golden tied it in the sixth inning and trotted reliever Daine Hart to the mound in the bottom of the inning.

Hayes drew two walks on the day, and he got on as a hit batsman in the eighth. He took second base when Hart hit Kale Austin with a pitch.

Hayes was on second base when Jake Ausitn sent a fielder’s choice down the middle. 

Golden second baseman Trey McBroom threw to shortstop Jaydon Stroup to force Kale Austin as Hayes rounded third base. 

Deerman said he was sending Hayes all the way. Hayes said it didn’t matter,

“Jake hit a ground ball and put some pressure on them, and I had it in my head I wasn’t stopping,” Hayes said. “If he told me to stop, I was going to go. He gave me the go.”

The throw came to catcher Noah Wicks, just up the third-base line from home plate.

“I was just trying to avoid the catcher,” Hayes said. “I tried to slide, and he dove across, and I stutter-stepped and kind of slid on my knees, not my stomach.

“It worked out.”

Deerman laughed about Hayes’ very-Hayes-like decision on the run.

“Jack said, ‘Coach, I didn’t care what you said. I was going, no matter what you did,’” Deerman said. “There was no doubt I was going to send him. I was going to make them make a throw to the plate and make a good play.

“It wasn’t a bad throw. It was up the line a little bit, and the catcher ran into him about the time he was coming in and dropped the ball.”

Such was the game to end the game. The game within the game saw Piedmont hold its own against a pitcher that hit low-90s in velocity.

“He was very good, and what made him so good was his off-speed stuff,” Deerman said. “He threw it hard, and we can usually hit a good fastball, but he had a good changeup and a good slider.

“I thought we did a really good job of competing, especially this early in the season to see an arm like that. I was very proud. We struck out 10 times, but we got in there and competed in the box, and I think we got him a little bit frustrated.”

With Phil Campbell’s Mason Swinney having moved on to Alabama and Auburn commit Fleming Hall playing Class 4A ball after Trinity Presbyterian moved up, Piedmont isn’t likely to see another pitcher like Palmer in 3A this season.

“That’s the kind of teams you have to beat, though, to go deep in the playoffs,” Deerman said. “I was proud of the way we completed.”

Palmer said he saw Thursday’s game as “a game we should win, every time,” but he said time in the South will help the Demons keep their roll going in Colorado.

“It’s a lot different than in Colorado,” he said. “These guys, you can tell they play, a lot more discipline. They’re not making as many mistakes.

“We’ve got to be on our best game, if we want to win these.”

Cover photo: Piedmont players and coaches celebrate after beating Golden (Colo.) on Thursday. (Photo by Amy Pike)

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