By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
WEST POINT —
Defending-champion Vinemont started off its trek for a second-straight Cullman County baseball title on Monday, defeating Good Hope 5-3 to advance into the winners’ bracket.
“We played a couple of really good innings today,” coach Chad Shannon said. “We lost it a little at the end, though. We are going to have to focus on finishing better.”
The Raiders (2-3) took a quick lead on Eagles’ starter Duncan Hopper, as Preston Calvert laced a run-scoring double to left field to stake his team to an early 1-0 lead.
Vinemont (5-0) responded in the third inning, taking a 2-1 lead on a two-RBI single from Teddy Drake.
Following a shaky start, Hopper settled down in the game’s middle frames. The senior threw six innings of work, allowing just one earned run, while allowing five hits and striking out six batters.
“Duncan threw a great game for us,” Shannon said. “On the offensive side, we did some small ball things that helped us win as well.”
The Eagles were able to give themselves some breathing room in the fourth inning.
After a single, a walk and a sacrifice bunt, Vinemont’s Nathan Persall delivered the key blow, stroking a one-out single into left field that brought home two runs to extend the Eagles’ cushion to 5-1. He also scored a run and stole a base.
“It’s Nathan’s first year on varsity,” Shannon said. “He’s still got a lot to work on but that was a good hit.”
Good Hope threatened in the bottom of the seventh, getting runners at the corners with nobody out. The Raiders were able to get those runners home on an Vinemont error and a sacrifice fly, but were unable to do any further damage.
The Eagles will move on to face Fairview today at 4 p.m. after the Aggies defeated Holly Pond.
% Hanceville 15, Cold Springs 3: The Bulldogs got off to a much better start in this year's Cullman County Baseball Tournament, scoring 13 runs in the fifth en route to a runaway victory over the Eagles on Monday.
Hanceville lost its opener in last season's tourney but rallied its way back to the consolation-bracket final before being eliminated.
"It's good to be on the winning side this year," coach Michael Chandler said. "It'll be nice to not have to play five games before getting to the championship. We didn't play as well as I wanted us to, though."
The Bulldogs scored the first two runs of the game in the third inning off a fielders' choice and a Keith Twitty RBI single to center.
Cold Springs answered in the bottom half of the frame, scoring three runs punctuated by a two-out, two-run double from Tayne Rice to give the Eagles a one-run advantage.
The lead held until the fifth inning, when the Bulldogs' bats came to life.
The Purple and Gold took advantage of sloppy defense from Cold Springs, sprinkling in six hits in the frame to score a whopping 13 runs, encapsulated by a couple of Dant'e Reese singles and two RBI hits from pitcher Kyle Roberson.
"We started putting the ball in play a little more and putting some pressure on their defense," Chandler said.
Roberson pitched five innings, allowing just two hits and one earned run, while collecting seven groundouts.
"He did real good," Chandler said. "He doesn't pitch often, but he threw strikes and did well. I'm proud of him."
The Bulldogs will move on to play tournament host and No. 1 seed West Point today at 6 p.m.
% Fairview 12, Holly Pond 0: Bryant Powers kept up a strong start to the season with another gem on the mound, and Luke Bailey and Jake Chandler spearheaded an offensive outburst to help the Aggies earn an easy Round 1 victory over the Broncos.
“We’ve been kind of dead in the dugout so far this year, but they were in the game the whole time tonight,” Fairview coach Curt Alexander said. “We found a way to play as a team.”
After an infield error on the first play of the game, Powers settled down and made quick work of Holly Pond’s lineup the rest of the night. He struck out three and allowed just one hit — a close play at first on an infield dribbler from Tony Vazquez — in a five-inning, complete-game effort.
Paired with an eight-strikeout performance against Hanceville earlier in the season, Powers has impressed his coach thus far.
“He’s going to be solid for us,” Alexander said. “If he throws strikes and doesn’t walk people, I think our defense is as good as anybody’s. We’ve just got to be able to throw strikes and be able to hit the ball when we’re on offense.”
Hunter Townson struck out two Aggies in the first inning before the Bronco defense broke down behind him the following frame. Fairview quickly turned three errors into a 7-0 lead, capitalizing on the blunders with RBI singles by Devan Parker and Chandler, as well as a two-run double from Luke Bailey and an RBI triple from Powers.
“I hate it for them, but you can’t complain,” Alexander said of Holly Pond’s fielding woes. “When it happens, you take advantage of it and then you just pour it on.”
Chandler maintained a high batting average from the No. 2 spot in the lineup in 2012 but was bumped down to eighth after a slow start to his senior season. He busted out of his funk on Monday, though, slugging the second-inning single, knocking in a run with a groundout in the fourth and crushing a two-run triple in the fifth.
“Jake’s been struggling a little bit, but today, he came alive,” Alexander said. “This was the Jake of last year.”
Bailey added a second double in the fifth inning to cap off a three-RBI, two-run night that included consistent play at shortstop following a poor throw that got by Aggie first baseman Mason Smith on the ballgame’s opening play.
“Luke can play anything that’s round,” Alexander said. “He’s a heck of an athlete. He can stinking play.”
Lane Denny was 2 for 2 with a pair of RBI singles, and Smith came through with a booming triple over the center fielder’s head in the fourth inning.
Fairview (3-2) is scheduled to play Vinemont today at 4 p.m., while Holly Pond (3-6) is slated to face Good Hope at 6 p.m. in a consolation bracket matchup.
% The Times’ sports editor Rob Ketcham contributed to this report.