By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
Just when Cullman thought it was going to cruise to an easy opening-day win against Oxford, the Class 6A defending state champs decided to make it a ballgame.
A four-run lead in the top of the seventh inning quickly turned into a one-run affair after home runs by Colton Turner and Matt Butler, but Bearcat starter Jordan Guthrie stayed cool under pressure and responded with three straight outs to preserve a 6-5 home victory for the Black and Gold.
“It was a little more uncomfortable than we’d like,” Cullman coach Brent Patterson said with a grin. “But any win is a good win.”
When Patterson took a trip out to the mound after the Yellow Jackets’ second bomb of the final frame, Guthrie told his coach he still felt fine and wanted a chance to finish out the inning. With 8-9-1 due up for Oxford, Patterson granted Guthrie his wish, a move that paid off when the southpaw strung together a strikeout, a groundout and a popup in first-base territory to close out a complete-game effort.
“We’ve been with him a long time. He’s easy to read,” Patterson said of Guthrie. “I felt like he still had life and command.”
Other than the hiccup in the seventh and a botched play on a sacrifice bunt that resulted in two Yellow Jacket runs in the fourth, Guthrie (1-0) was practically untouchable on the mound. The Snead State signee finished with eight strikeouts and retired the side in order in four of his seven innings.
“For the most part, he kept balls out of the heart of the plate, and he changed speeds a little bit,” Patterson said. “I was real pleased with him. He looked like Jordan usually looks.”
The Bearcats’ potent lineup gave Guthrie plenty to work with early. Zac Crocker and Keegan Thompson jumped on Oxford pitcher Joseph Mcguire for back-to-back doubles in the first inning, and Wesley Walker made it 3-0 shortly thereafter with an RBI single to right field.
Kristian Robinson clubbed a double to the left-field gap the next inning to drive in Walker.
With runners on second and third in the fourth, the Yellow Jackets chose to intentionally walk Thompson and instead face Cleveland, who had already struck out twice earlier in the game. The slugger didn’t disappoint a third time, however, driving in Cullman’s last two runs with a sharp single.
“Before they walked Keegan, I begged him to hit a missile ground ball up the middle, and that’s what he did,” Patterson said. “He responded.”
Sam Murphree came about three feet from blasting a home run in the fourth inning. He settled for a double and later scored on Cleveland’s clutch hit.
Walker’s two hits were tops for the Bearcats, as were Cole Collins’ two runs.
% Cullman 2, Pelham 1 (eight innings): Thompson did all the heavy lifting for the Bearcats in the nightcap, striking out 14 on the mound and crushing two home runs, including a walk-off laser beam in the eighth inning.
The national prospect went to the plate looking for a breaking ball but didn’t seem to mind the first-pitch fastball that came his way, blasting it over the left field fence in a hurry. Thompson hit his first home run in the fourth inning, a towering shot that sailed over the scoreboard in right field.
“I knew it right away when I hit the ball,” he said of his game-winning at-bat. “I was pretty excited, though. Just glad to get the game over with.”
Thompson, the reigning 5A Player and Pitcher of the Year, picked up right where he left off, baffling Panther batters right and left with his blazing heat and sweeping curve. He already had 12 strikeouts through seven innings but managed to add two more in the extra frame.
Collins and Walker had Cullman’s only other hits on the night.
The 2-0 Bearcats won’t play again until Saturday, when they’ll travel to Southside High for one game against the hosts and another versus Pelham.
The 6A Panthers handily defeated Oxford 11-2 before picking up the late-inning loss against the Black and Gold.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at email@example.com.