The Cullman baseball team has won more than its fair share of games this season with skill. On Saturday at home, however, the Bearcats were content with using a little bit of luck to get by Gadsden City in an 8-7 squeaker.
One of the wilder scenes of the spring developed with two outs and the score tied in the bottom of the seventh inning.
A couple pitches after Maison Goodwin stole second and while the speedster was on his way to swiping third, Noah Fondren swung through strike three on a wild pitch that went all the way to the backstop. The freshman, initially unaware he wasn’t actually out, took off down the line and beat the catcher’s throw, which pulled the fielder off the bag, to first base.
All the while, a very aware Goodwin had snuck home to score the go-ahead run.
The Black and Gold had to wait a minute or so to celebrate because Fondren was originally ruled out at first. The call was eventually overturned, though.
“That’s an awesome way to end it,” Goodwin said with a grin. “You want to end it on a home run or a double, but we’ll take any win we can get at this point.”
Fondren couldn’t help but take a more sheepish approach while discussing the most action-packed — not to mention productive — strikeout of his life.
“It’s not what I planned on doing, but it worked out for us,” the talented teen said with a sly smile. “I’m glad that we got lucky and we could get Maison in. It’s just luck, but we’ll take it.”
Cullman coach Brent Patterson called the turn of events “crazy” and pointed out its similarity to a zany play that required a review — Washington’s Adam Laroche was thrown out at home after trying to score on a ball that got away from Atlanta’s Evan Gattis — in the Braves-Nationals game the night before.
Patterson said assistant Shannon Fondren sparked the sequence by asking if he wanted to send Goodwin and hope the catcher threw it in the outfield. The head coach heeded the advice, hollered the instructions to Goodwin at second instead of giving him a sign and then watched as the fleet-footed senior did what he does best — create havoc on the basepaths.
“Maison can really run, and he’s got good instincts,” Patterson said. “I knew if I told him, ‘Hey, try to take this,’ if he didn’t feel like he could, he wouldn’t have. That’s one of the benefits of having a guy out there you trust. He’s one of the best guys we’ve got out on the bags.”
As for Fondren, Patterson joked he couldn’t have drawn up the plate appearance any better.
“We told him, ‘Hey, if it’s going to bounce and go to the backstop, go ahead and swing through it and try to beat it out at first,’” the coach said with a chuckle. “No, we want better at-bats, but we’ll take it today and escape.”
The Bearcats indeed escaped with their 34th victory, which quickly concluded the two-game skid they acquired versus a pair of tough Tennessee teams on Friday. Aside from Owen Lovell’s three-run scorcher, the 12th home run of his freshman campaign, and Jackson Hill’s spectacular 3 2/3 innings of relief, the Black and Gold certainly weren’t at their best.
Gadsden City got its lead runner on base in five of the seven innings and brought across all seven of its runs by the fourth frame, many on hard hits but a couple on a costly error in the outfield with the bases loaded.
“I’ve been around long enough to know when you play a lot and don’t practice, it’s just the natural order of things,” said Patterson of his squad’s two-day rough patch, which rounded out a string of 12 games in two weeks. “We’ve got to get back to work, get back to the details and hopefully we get back to playing sharp and crisp baseball.”
Hill calmed the storm in a big way for the Bearcats, battling through the bases-loaded blunder to strike out four, allow just two hits, walk one and bean one in the winning effort. The decision improved the junior, who missed the first two weeks of the season with an injury, to 2-0 in six appearances. He also has a save and has yet to give up an earned run.
“He really didn’t get to pitch much at all early and now he’s getting more and more in,” Patterson said of Hill. “He’s building trust with us and his teammates. I think everybody knows he’s going to go in there and throw strikes.
“I’m glad he got the win today. He deserves it.”
Lovell’s homer was his fourth of the week and eighth in the last two weeks. The slugger was 3 for 4 with five RBIs and his 23rd double, leaving him just five back of the program-best mark set by Ben Moore in 2011.
Carter Bowen went 2 for 3 for the Cats’ only other multi-hit performance. Fondren accompanied his heroic K with a double, and Lance Cleveland (RBI), Cole Collins (RBI), Kolby Robinson and Goodwin slapped a single apiece.
Class 5A No. 2 Cullman (34-10) will wrap up the regular season at home Tuesday against 6A No. 5 Sparkman. The Bearcats will welcome Athens to Bill Shelton Field for the first round of the playoffs next Friday.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at email@example.com.