First, there was the high. Then came the low.
Not long after beginning the day with a walk-off 4-3 win in extra innings versus Tuscaloosa County, Cullman was bounced from the Hoover Spring Break Classic with a 9-2 semifinal loss to area- and arch-rival Hartselle.
In the opener, the Wildcats took a 3-2 lead in the top of the 11th inning with a sacrifice fly before Zac Crocker played the hero for the Bearcats, ending the game with a clutch two-run double. The Black and Gold have six one-run losses to their credit this season, so coach Brent Patterson was obviously thrilled to see his team come out on top this time.
“We were down to our last out when Zac came through for us,” he said. “That was definitely big. We needed one of those to finally go our way, and it did.”
Maison Goodwin had an RBI single in the second inning, Mason Jones led off the third with a solo home run, and eighth-grader Carter Bowen earned the win after pitching the ninth through 11th frames. Jesse Scott held down the fort for the first eight innings.
Cullman carried the momentum over to its semifinal matchup against Hartselle, but it didn’t last. After the Bearcats grabbed an early 2-1 lead on RBI singles from Cole Collins and Lance Cleveland, the Tigers responded with eight unanswered runs to notch an easy win.
Falling to Hartselle never sets well with anyone from the Black and Gold’s athletic programs, and Thursday’s defeat was no different for Patterson.
“No. Definitely not,” he said. “You don’t like to lose to them.”
In the end, the coach said his squad’s heated rival simply had more pitching depth to turn to than Cullman.
The Tigers were able to utilize one of their top-three pitchers, while the Bearcats were forced to hand the ball over to youngun Owen Lovell early in the fourth inning after Goodwin handled the first three. The first batter the eighth-grader faced, slugger Brett Blackwood, tagged him for a two-run homer that put Hartselle up for good.
Despite the end result, one aspect Patterson enjoyed about the classic was having the opportunity to let so many different players throw. A grand total of nine Bearcats — Keegan Thompson, Auston Neal, Scott, Troy Forrest, Bowen, Jordan Guthrie, Goodwin, Collins and Lovell — took the hill during the Black and Gold’s seven games.
“That’s part of it. There were a lot of people on the mound,” Patterson said. “It’s a fun part of this tournament.”
One would assume Thursday’s outcome might raise the stakes for Cullman come time for its area series with the Tigers on April 9 and 11, but Patterson claims that’s far from the case.
“I don’t think either team needs any added motivation when we play each other,” he said.
The Bearcats trudged into the tournament sporting a so-so 11-9 record plagued by inconsistency on offense and outside of the team’s two star pitchers in Thompson and Guthrie. After finishing the week 5-2, though, to improve to 16-11, Patterson is feeling much more confident going forward.
“Because the rain, the schedule, we just hadn’t got in a groove of playing,” he said. “It was good to get us out there against quality people and have to compete against quality arms.”
Cullman will seek a second doubleheader sweep of Muscle Shoals Monday on the road before jumping into an area series with West Point. The Bearcats will host on Tuesday, with the Warriors holding home-field advantage on Thursday.
“This time of year, you’re wanting to win every game. At the same time, area play is obviously what’s really important,” Patterson said. “We got everything in the right direction, and we’re going to be ready to play well Tuesday and Thursday.”
Like its baseball counterparts, the Cullman softball team started the last day of the Gulf Shores Tournament with a walk-off victory but ended it with a tough loss to Hartselle.
Hayden Short had two home runs on Wednesday, including a game-winning, three-run shot to help the Bearcats defeat Prattville 4-3. Hannah Morton was the winning pitcher.
They were narrowly defeated 6-4 by Hartselle.
In addition to Short’s pair of bombs, other Cullman players contributing hits were Elli Dixon, Claire Jenkins, Mckensi Burks, Kaitlyn Brannon, Morton and Taiya Ponder.
Dixon will receive a much-needed break after catching all eight tournament games.
The Black and Gold, who rode a 5-3 record to 12th out of a massive 68-team field, will welcome West Point for an area doubleheader on Tuesday.
% The Times’ sports editor Rob Ketcham contributed to this report.