By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
For all the hype that surrounds the heated rivalry between Cullman and Hartselle’s storied baseball programs, the Tigers sure didn’t put up much of a fight in the foes’ latest area series.
Over the past two days, the No. 5 Bearcats had more hits, better pitching and more fight than No. 6 Hartselle ever displayed — and now they have an area championship to show for it, too.
Keegan Thompson was masterful on the mound and not too shabby at the plate, either, blasting a three-run home run — his eighth — and two doubles to help Cullman cruise to an 8-1 home victory over the Tigers.
Following a six-inning gem by Jordan Guthrie one day prior, Thompson tossed one of his own on Wednesday, frustrating the Hartselle lineup by striking out eight and allowing just two hits in the win. The Auburn signee didn’t allow a runner to reach base until Brett Blackwood snuck a single past the shortstop with two outs in the fourth.
Lefty Jesse Scott fanned one in a scoreless seventh inning to preserve the decision.
Pitching hasn’t been a problem for the Black and Gold (25-14) this season, and neither was hitting in the Bearcats’ series-clinching contests. With the playoffs just around the corner, Thompson is feeling more confident than ever with his team excelling in every aspect of the game.
“When we’re hitting, I don’t think anybody can beat us,” he said. “As long as we play defense and pitch well, which we’ve been doing all year, we’re not going to lose as long as we go.”
Just like Tuesday’s ballgame, Cullman didn’t wait long to put its first runs on the scoreboard. Zac Crocker (single), Cole Collins (double) and Thompson (home run) all pushed pitches to the opposite field to rattle Tiger starter Colton Ord before he could even record a single out.
Wesley Walker (double) and Kolby Robinson (single) pitched in RBI hits to up the Bearcats’ lead to 5-0 in the third, and Lance Cleveland followed a Thompson double with a single to make it 6-0 the very next frame.
Crocker and Cleveland capped off the Black and Gold’s scoring efforts with respective sacrifice flies in the sixth and seventh innings.
Kristian Robinson poked a hit past Hartselle’s second baseman in his final at-bat, rounding out an offensive outburst Cullman coach Brent Patterson was obviously pleased to see.
“Our pitchers are doing the same thing day in and day out for the most part,” he said. “It’s definitely nice to score some runs and get those guys some breathing room.”
The area title clinched home-field advantage for the Bearcats in the first round of the playoffs, which are set to begin in a little more than a week. They’ll also remain at the friendly confines of Bill Shelton Field for Round 2 if they draw an area opponent.
Thompson hasn’t forgotten the Black and Gold were in the same situation last year, and the end result wasn’t what he desired. Hartselle traveled to Cullman and wound up winning the series in three games to send the home team packing for the rest of the playoffs.
This time around, Thompson would love nothing more than to turn the tables on the Tigers.
“We really haven’t accomplished anything yet,” he said. “We’re just looking forward to the playoffs, and if we play them again, it won’t happen like it did last year.”
According to Patterson, winning the area championship was merely one of many of his squad’s goals. If his boys plan on advancing all the way to Montgomery for the state title game, he knows they can’t be satisfied just yet.
“We can’t be complacent,” the coach said. “We can’t sit back and say, ‘Alright, we’re good now because we scored a few runs in two games.” We’ve got to continue to try to get better everyday because there’s a lot of room for improvement.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.