By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
Vinemont had Hanceville on the ropes for six innings of Wednesday’s area-series clincher.
High school baseball games last seven innings, however, and it was in the last one that the Bulldogs answered with a powerful knockout punch, piling on eight hits and nine runs in the final frame to earn a gutsy 12-7 come-from-behind victory over the Eagles.
“We’ve always been kind of scrappy,” Hanceville coach Michael Chandler said. “They just never give up. They keep battling the whole game.”
The Dawgs quickly cut into a 7-3 deficit with back-to-back doubles from Isaac Hardin and Austin Coker to lead off the seventh inning. Kyle Roberson and Alex Armstrong then closed the gap to one with a double and infield hit before a costly error on a groundball from Keith Twitty allowed Christian James to cross the plate for the tying run.
Pulling even was just the start for Hanceville, though. Hayden Loggins pushed in the game-winning run with an infield single, and Hardin and Dant’e Reese provided all the insurance the Bulldogs would need with a pair of two-run singles.
“We started getting base hits, and we started back to how we used to be,” Hardin said of the rally. “Look what happened.”
Hardin’s two hits in the seventh inning increased his total to three for the game, which was especially welcome for the victors following a shaky — and short — start on the mound for the versatile athlete.
Vinemont forced Hanceville to replace Hardin with Coker after just 1 2/3 innings by going off for seven runs in the second inning.
Consecutive singles from Chasten Beck, Sam Wood and Blake Melton gave the Eagles one run, but all six of the others came on walks, hit batters, wild pitches and passed balls.
The outing wasn’t pretty for Hardin, but Chandler was impressed by his player’s ability to put it behind him and continue to contribute at the plate.
“That’s huge for him,” the coach said. “He’s really grown a lot this year as far as separating his on the field and at-bats. He wasn’t throwing strikes, and they dinked him up a little bit, but he came in and just hammered the ball. It’s great.”
The Bulldogs’ first three runs came in the third inning. Coker kicked off the scoring by knocking in Twitty with a double, followed by a smooth two-run single by Reese, who finished with two hits and four RBIs.
Other Hanceville contributors were Loggins, two hits, one RBI; Armstrong, two hits; Issac Weissand, two hits; and Twitty and James, one hit apiece.
“It was just a great team victory,” Chandler said. “This is the most proud I’ve been of this team.”
The win gives the Bulldogs an early advantage in area play with series still to be played against Good Hope and Danville. Chandler said it’s been “a long, long time” since Hanceville has been in the driver’s seat concerning its shot to secure one of the area’s two postseason berths.
“It’s been way too long,” the coach said. “This is a great feeling.”
Unlike his counterpart, the last thing Vinemont skipper Chad Shannon was feeling after Wednesday’s ballgame was great. His squad had its chances to at least slow down Hanceville’s rally but came up empty on nearly all of them.
“Our kids were really focused and played really well for about four full innings, and we kind of had a mental letdown,” Shannon said. “We lost a little bit of focus, and then Hanceville took advantage. They fought their way back out. They played hard.”
With two more weeks of area competition still on the table, the coach said his team still needs to work on its effort, as well as mentally being able to finish games out.
“That’s about the third or fourth time that’s happened to us this year,” Shannon said of Wednesday’s collapse.
The entire contest wasn’t all doom and gloom for Vinemont (12-7). In addition to the seven-run second inning, the Eagles received an exceptional defensive performance from Duncan Hopper. The senior accounted for five straight outs at one point in the fourth and fifth frames, highlighted by a diving stop of a hard-hit grounder up the middle, as well as a leaping snare of a liner from Reese.
Wood was Vinemont’s best batter with a single and double, while Hopper pitched in a double and an RBI. Ty Jones added his own two-base hit, and Nathan Persall and Teddy Drake both braved bean balls to bring in a run each.
Hanceville touted a few defensive gems as well. Twitty doubled up a Vinemont runner trying to advance to third during a throw to first base, and left fielder Armstrong ran down a booming shot off Wood’s bat that would’ve easily resulted in extra bases.
Hopper struck out 15 in a 10-2 victory over the Bulldogs on Tuesday, but Loggins answered the call in the nightcap, giving up just three hits and striking out five in a 12-2 rout for Hanceville.
The Bulldogs will host Good Hope next Tuesday, while the Eagles will travel to Danville.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at email@example.com.