By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
Keegan Thompson hit the home run that wasn’t, and Zac Crocker hit the home run that was, helping Cullman down Russell County 9-2 at home on Saturday afternoon.
Thompson quickly rebounded from a shaky first inning on the mound, while Crocker spearheaded a five-run sixth with a three-run blast to assure the No. 3 Bearcats a lopsided victory over Class 5A’s second-ranked squad.
“That was a good win for us,” Black and Gold coach Brent Patterson said. “They have some guys that can swing. They’ve got a first-round draft pick. They’ve got signees all over the place. They’re real good.”
Cullman found out just how good the Warriors can be in the first inning. Trevor Davis tagged Thompson for a single in the second at-bat of the ballgame, setting up a two-run home run by Anfernee Grier just two pitches later.
A few early miscues would rattle most pitchers, but that’s not the way Thompson operates. The Auburn signee proceeded to allow just three hits and strike out eight over the next six innings of a complete-game effort. The national prospect struck out the side in order in the fourth inning and worked out of a jam in the fifth by getting the last two Russell County batters to go down looking.
“It was good for Keegan to have the outing he did, to be able to have the maturity to not go out there and try to do too much after the first inning,” Patterson said. “Somebody with a little less maturity and moxie, it could’ve got to him, but it really probably focused him in and made him a little bit better.”
The Bearcat bats helped the Black and Gold chip away at the early deficit. Cole Collins and Crocker opened the first inning with back-to-back singles before Lance Cleveland drove in a run with a hit to the gap in right-center field.
Cullman added three more in the third, one on a passed ball and another on RBI singles by Cleveland and Wesley Walker.
Thompson hit a towering shot in the bottom of the fifth that appeared to land on top of the team’s indoor facility just inside the left-field foul pole. The home-plate umpire saw it differently, however, calling the ball foul as Thompson rounded first base.
Patterson spent the next few minutes making his case to both umpires on the field before returning to his base-coaching duties at third base.
“I saw something different than he saw,” the coach said after the contest.
Though Thompson’s homer was ultimately overruled, there was never any doubt Crocker’s shot in the sixth was anything but fair. With two strikes on him early, the Bearcat catcher battled back to a full count and sat on a fastball, drilling it to the clubhouse roof in left field.
“When you know what’s coming, you can hit it a lot harder,” said Crocker, who also hit a solo home run the day before against Muscle Shoals.
Kristian Robinson started the sixth inning with a single and scored the next at-bat on an Auston Neal hit that squirreled past the center fielder and rolled all the way to the fence. Neal then came in on a grounder by Christian Martinez.
The win was more than welcome for Cullman, which lost to Russell County 7-5 in nine innings just last month. The Warriors were coming off a sweep of Hartselle on Friday.
“They’re a good team, but they’re not unbeatable,” Crocker said of Russell County. “With Keegan on the mound, I had all the confidence, too.”
The Bearcats are scheduled to play Southside-Gadsden at 3 p.m. today. Check back later for results from that game.
% Cullman 3, Southside-Gadsden 1: Jordan Guthrie improved to 4-1 with his fourth complete game of the season, striking out nine Panthers in the Bearcats’ second win of the day.
The Snead State signee allowed just five hits and walked none.
All four runs in Saturday’s contest were scored in the first inning.
Martinez was responsible for a pair of hits and an RBI, while Kristian Robinson was good for a two-run single.
Crocker’s hot bat carried over into the Black and Gold’s game against Southside. He finished with a single, a double and a run.
Kolby Robinson rounded out Cullman’s offensive production with a hit.
After entering a Friday doubleheader with a five-game losing streak, the Bearcats (8-6) will exit the weekend as the proud owners of a four-game run in the opposite direction. They’ll travel to Southside for a doubleheader on Thursday.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at email@example.com.