Walking off the field after last year’s season-ending loss to Hartselle, Cullman coach Brent Patterson couldn’t help but wonder what might have been.
After splitting the first two contests in the second round of the playoffs, the Tigers edged the Bearcats 7-5 in the decisive game of the series sending them into the next round and the Black and Gold back into the classroom.
It wasn’t the final game that Patterson lamented on, however, as the coach saw plenty of opportunites go to waste when the two teams battled it out in the series-opener.
“We were a little bit tentative in that first game,” Patterson said. “We kind of felt our way through it and didn’t take advantage of some opportunites early. We didn’t exactly play very aggressively, and that’s what you’ve got to do.”
Added pitcher Jordan Guthrie: “We weren’t as prepared as we should have been, and that kind of set the mood for the series. This time, though, I feel like we are ready to go out there and win.”
Cullman will certainly get its chance at redemption on Friday, as the Bearcats will once again host their bitter rival in the second round of the postseason. The Tigers won the season series 3-2 but it was the Black and Gold that took home area gold by winning the games that mattered most.
Guthrie, who’ll start Game 1, said he couldn’t wait to get out there on Friday and compete.
“I’m absolutely ready to be on that mound,” he said. “I’m going to get after it.”
The two schools are separated by just 20 miles, which Guthrie believes to be a big reason for the heated rivalry.
“We’ve just never liked each other,” he said. “The tradition of that keeps on going with the games on Friday. I just hate them.”
Although Guthrie isn’t likely to bake cookies with the Hartselle lineup, he is very aware of just how dangerous the Tiger lineup can be from top to bottom.
“They have a lot of guys who put the ball in play,” he said. “They can hit you if you leave balls over the plate, so I’ve got to locate, throw strikes and not walk anyone.”
Second baseman Kristian Robinson and company would like to help out their pitcher as much as possible when he toes the slab on Friday afternoon.
To do that, Robinson said he and his team will have to be very disciplined at the plate.
“As an offense, we just need to swing at strikes,” he said. “We came out flat last year, so we have to stay within ourselves when we take the field on Friday.”
Asked if Robinson shared the same sentiments toward Hartselle as his teammate Guthrie, the senior didn’t mince his words.
“Oh, yeah. I hate them,” he said. “We definitely have all the motivation we need. Losing once to them was bad enough. We can’t lose to them twice.”
While you might not see Patterson get as vocal as his players, there’s little doubt the five-year head man wants to pick up a series victory and advance further into the playoffs.
“They would like nothing else than to put us out again,” he said. “It goes both ways. Both programs have put so much into it, and it means a lot to both communities. That’s what makes it a special game. We know they have the same mindset we do. We are confident, though. If we play up to our potential and give ourselves a chance to win, that’s all you can ask for.”
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 258 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.