WEST POINT —
April Fools’ Day or not, the Cullman baseball team was not messing around in its area-series opener at West Point.
Freshman Owen Lovell put a hurting on his fifth home run of the season, Sam Huser shook off his sickliness for five solid innings and the Bearcats bumped their latest win streak to seven with a 9-2 victory on Monday.
The triumph improved the Class 5A Black and Gold to 25-8 overall and 3-0 in area play, leaving them one win away from an early playoff berth. Cullman can clinch that postseason spot at Bill Shelton Field in Thursday’s rematch at 4:30 p.m.
“It’s always good to win that first one and not have to think about winning two in a row,” Bearcat coach Brent Patterson said. “Now we can go home, take care of that first game, do what we’re supposed to do and we’re in the playoffs.”
Patterson exhausted his entire range of emotions in the top of the first. He was up when Cole Collins drew a leadoff walk but then quickly down when Collins was caught trying to steal second and Cristian Martinez struck out. Luckily for the coach, Lance Cleveland came through with a base on balls, followed by Lovell’s two-strike bomb that sailed far behind the left-field fence.
Lovell said he’s been starting to see the curveball a bit better lately, which was evident by the rip he put on a hanging delivery from West Point’s Tanner Rusk. Though the Warriors kept it fairly close for most of the remainder of the ballgame, the Black and Gold never quite let them climb out of that first-inning hole.
“You go from having a letdown to Lance working himself a walk and Owen coming through with a home run,” Patterson said of the early momentum swings. “We always want to score first, and we were able to. We’d much rather be fighting from on top than having to work uphill the whole game.”
Huser, one of several players fighting the current crud creeping through the Cullman dugout, was extremely effective considering the circumstances. The junior threw to contact, let his defense do its job behind him — shortstop Kolby Robinson turned two up the middle on a grounder in the fourth — and did just enough to keep his perfect record intact.
Huser, now 6-0, eventually handed over the reins to Carter Bowen, who closed out his third save with two innings of one-hit relief. The freshman fanned two, both in the final frame.
Proud didn’t even begin to describe the way Patterson felt about Huser after the hurler’s gutsy performance.
“We needed him to go out there and do what he did,” the coach said. “He gave us five good innings and was running on fumes.”
Lovell led the Cats with three RBIs and was joined in the two-hit club by Cleveland. Keaton Dean, Kolby Robinson and Collins all helped out with singles, while Auston Neal aided the winning effort with a towering sacrifice fly to center field. Collins and Maison Goodwin swiped one base apiece.
Aside from the first-inning mistake Lovell made him pay for, Rusk was everything West Point coach Trai Meadows could’ve asked for the remainder of the outing.
The sophomore wound up striking out seven and giving up seven hits. He also yielded seven more runs, though all were unearned with six untimely errors allowing the Black and Gold to tack on one run in the second, two in the third and four in the seventh.
It’d be an understatement to say Meadows was frustrated by the sloppy defensive effort.
“We’re making mistakes that you should be over with in the first two games of the season,” he said. “We’re just not a very good baseball team right now.”
The coach was impressed with Rusk’s resiliency, though. So was Patterson.
“He battled and pitched great,” Meadows said. “We just didn’t help him behind the field. It was tough on him.”
Added Patterson: “Their guy on the mound did a good job, changing speeds and mixing it up. I thought he battled and kept them in it. He worked through some mistakes, so hats off to him.”
Adam Stewart scored one on a second-inning inning single as part of a 2-for-3 showing that was matched by teammate Jordan McKenzie. Blake Yearwood accounted for the other RBI with a late sacrifice fly, and Riley Voce, Bryant Farley and Ryder Jones each chipped in a hit.
Will Wrenn, who was implemented at catcher just two weeks before the campaign kicked off, mowed down three Cullman baserunners at second base in the first two innings.
“He’s got a strong arm,” Meadows said of the junior. “He’s done a great job back there.”
The coach took a down-but-not-out approach to the looming doubleheader, reeling off a list of basics the Warriors must take care of to salvage the area series on Thursday.
“We’ve got to be focused and do the small things — catch a ground ball, catch a fly ball, put the ball in play, don’t strikeout and just come back ready to play,” Meadows said.
The Bearcats won Tuesday's nightcap, which had no bearing on the area standings, 10-0.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.