By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
WEST POINT —
An afternoon downpour, a two-hour delay to prepare the field and bitter cold temperatures weren’t nearly enough to keep the second day of the Cullman County Baseball Tournament from being played.
Though the conditions certainly weren’t ideal, host and No. 1 seed West Point wasn’t about to complain, especially after overcoming a slow start to take care of Hanceville 11-1 in six innings late Tuesday afternoon.
“I was proud of the guys for coming out and playing under these conditions,” Warrior coach Trai Meadows said. “I was a little worried about not hitting before and getting a good warmup, but they came out and played like they were supposed to.”
Dalton Looney allowed just two hits in five innings of work to earn the victory on the mound. After hitting Christian James with a pitch and allowing him to score on a Dant’e Reese single in the second inning, Looney buckled down and struck out the side in order the following frame. He K’d three more Bulldog batters over the next two innings to raise his final total to seven.
“It was under tough conditions,” Looney said of pitching in the blustery wind and downright freezing temps. “I just knew I had to get in there, throw strikes and let the defense have my back. They did great.”
Wesley Smith nearly ended the contest with one swing of the bat in the bottom of the sixth inning. With the bases loaded and West Point holding an 8-1 lead, the senior slugger ripped a towering shot that just barely stayed in the ballpark, bouncing off the fence to allow two runners to score.
Will Wrenn closed out the game with an RBI groundout two batters later.
“The moment it left the bat, I thought it was gone for sure,” Smith said of his near-grand slam. “But I guess the cold conditions and the wind kept it in. I was really happy with it, though. It was probably the hardest ball I’ve hit this year.”
Ryder Jones also wielded a big stick at the plate at the Warriors, trading two singles for three RBIs. Considering the No. 2 batter and first baseman’s class standing, Smith is awfully glad to have Jones in the same dugout.
“He’s coming on,” Smith said. “He’s really good for a sophomore.”
Jordan McKenzie struck out one batter in one inning of relief for West Point. He also drew walks in three of his four at-bats — one came with the bases loaded to help him snag the easiest RBI of his life — taking advantage of the free passes with three runs and a stolen base.
Looney helped his cause on the hill with a two-run bloop single down the right-field line in the fourth inning. Tate Duckett, Bryant Farley and Wesley Waters all contributed one single. Duckett was also responsible for two stolen bases, while Farley scored a run and stole a base.
“To bring the county title back to West Point, that’s how we’ve got to play,” Smith said of his squad, which failed to defend its 2011 championship last season against Vinemont.
Keith Twitty had Hanceville’s only other hit. As much as they struggled on offense, the Dawgs had an even harder time in the field, sprinkling 10 walks throughout the second-round matchup. Five of those four-ball counts came in the fourth, allowing the Warriors to pull away with six runs in the inning.
“We’re going to have to throw strikes if we want to compete,” Hanceville coach Michael Chandler said. “That’s the bottom line.”
After seeing Looney mow through his lineup and knowing the Warriors (5-1) still have their ace — Waters — up their sleeve, Chandler considers West Point to be the early favorite to win this year’s county tournament.
“They pitch the ball like that, they’re going to be tough to beat,” he said. “And they’ve still got their best on the bench.”
% Fairview 10, Vinemont 4: The Aggies will meet West Point for a spot in the championship game after handing the defending champs their first loss of the season on Tuesday night.
Fairview (4-2) jumped on Eagle (5-1) starter Riley Foust for six runs in the second inning and scattered four more in the fourth and fifth frames to hold on to the win.
Trent Shoemaker yielded zero hits in the first two innings on the mound for the Purple and Gold, walking six, allowing one earned run and striking out one. Cody Edge gave up three runs in 1 1/3 innings of relief before Luke Bailey closed out the ballgame with three strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings of work.
Vinemont's Lance Stanley took over for Foust in the fourth, fanning two batters and giving up a single run in 2 2/3 innings.
Fairview was exceptional at the plate for the second consecutive night. Bailey, Mason Smith, Bryant Powers and Cody Edge all accounted for two hits, while Bailey and Smith both added two RBIs and a run. Bailey also stole a base.
Powers and Parker each posted one RBI and a run, and Edge crossed home plate once.
Dexton Gregory and Jesse Hill drove in a run apiece with respective doubles. Shoemaker scored twice and stole a base after being beaned twice. Hill and Jake Chandler rounded out the Aggies' runs.
All four of the Eagles' RBIs came from the team's first four batters — Foust, Duncan Hopper, Ty Jones and Teddy Drake. Foust, Brock Heaton, Sam Wood and Stanley were responsible for Vinemont's runs, and Wood added a hit.
% Rain, rain, go away: The inclement weather and delay caused Tuesday night’s consolation battle between Good Hope and Holly Pond to be rescheduled for Wednesday at 2 p.m. Cold Springs and Vinemont will play in the day’s only other game, another loser’s bracket matchup, at 4 p.m.
To make up for the schedule switch, there will now be a three-game slate on Thursday instead of the two that were originally planned.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.