With Jordan Guthrie pitching as spectacular as ever this season, Cullman has only needed a run or two out of its offense to get the job done when the lefty’s taken the mound.
To Guthrie’s delight on Tuesday in Hartselle, the Bearcat bats blew up for four runs in the first inning and tacked on two more over the next two frames to help the Black and Gold shake off an error-riddled sixth and secure a 6-4 triumph over the arch-rival Tigers.
Guthrie fanned 11 in a six-inning, three-hit gem before handing the ball off to Keegan Thompson for the final three outs. The Auburn signee took care of the rest with ease, sending Hartselle’s 1-2-3 hitters back to the dugout in order on strikes to earn the save and notch an astounding eighth victory for Guthrie.
Of all the Snead State signee’s wins so far in his senior campaign, there’s no doubt this one was his favorite.
“By far. This is freaking Hartselle. I hate them,” the fun-loving Guthrie said with a mile-wide grin. “I’m so proud of my teammates. I’m so proud of the way we came out, the way we swung it, the way we got out on top of them.”
Cullman put Hartselle behind the 8-ball from the get-go, jumping on Jackson Smith for four runs before the home team finally mustered three outs.
Cole Collins got the party started with a single, Thompson kept it going with a walk and Lance Cleveland roped a hit of his own to load the bases, setting the stage for Kristian Robinson to stand firm on a hit-by-pitch for the easiest RBI of his life. Wesley Walker drove in a pair with a high chopper over the third baseman the ensuing at-bat, and Mason Jones followed with a one-run single to complete the Bearcats’ offensive outburst.
Slugger Brett Blackwood bombed a solo shot off Guthrie in the bottom half of the inning, but the Black and Gold responded in the second with a sacrifice fly from Thompson to drive in Auston Neal for a 5-1 advantage. Two innings was all she wrote for Smith, who was replaced with lefty junior Levi Tapscott for the duration of the contest.
“We were fired up,” Jones said of Cullman’s hot start. “Gut always shoves it, and we know he’s going to. This time, we got the sticks behind him, and it really went well for us. We got Jackson Smith out of there real quick, which was good for us.”
Jones didn’t make Tapscott’s outing an easy one, either, greeting the reliever with a line-drive solo home run over the left-field fence in the third inning. Like Guthrie, Jones’ blast meant more to the junior because it came in one of North Alabama’s most heated rivalries.
“It felt great,” Jones said. “It’s always good to hit a home run, but it’s even better whenever it’s against Hartselle.”
The score remained at 6-1 until the bottom of the sixth inning, when Hartselle cashed in four Cullman errors for three runs to make the Bearcats sweat a bit more than they would’ve liked.
The sloppy frame didn’t end up making a difference, however, as Thompson took over for Guthrie following a four-pitch walk to begin the seventh. By the time the national prospect proceeded to mow down Deacon Aldridge, Easton Chenault and Blackwood, Cullman could finally release a collective sigh of relief and soak in a hard-fought win over the Tigers.
“It was a rough sixth inning, but we stuck through it, and that’s what I love about our team this year,” Guthrie said. “We stuck through it, and we got the win.”
As much as he would’ve liked to tack on a seventh complete game to his resume, the lefty had no problem handing the ball over to Thompson with the game on the line.
“That’s completely fine,” Guthrie said. “Whatever we have to do to get the win. If we’ve got to bring in Keegan for an inning to shut them down, so be it.”
Robinson smashed a double off the left-field fence in the fifth inning for his second hit of the night. He also snared a line drive up the middle and rocketed the throw to first base to double up a Hartselle runner in the fifth inning.
Collins and Walker joined the second baseman in the two-hit club, while Samuel Murphree and Neal each had one.
Thompson will likely start for the Bearcats (24-13) today in Game 1 of a second area doubleheader versus Hartselle. The games were rescheduled from Thursday to today at 4:30 p.m. due to expected storms.
The rivals were set to take the field for another game on Tuesday night. The contest, which was still in progress at presstime, had no implications on the area series, but Jones indicated the Black and Gold still had plenty to play for.
“Even this next game is going to be big,” the junior said. “We don’t want to give them any kind of momentum no matter what. Even if it doesn’t matter or not, we want to go out there and beat them every time.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.