The Cullman Times
All the early season struggles faced by the Vinemont baseball team were a distant memory as the Eagles prepared to host Hanceville for a crucial area contest on Tuesday.
By all accounts, the Red and White had started playing a better brand of ball the week prior, and their kids and coaching staff were confident they could stand toe-to-toe with the Dawgs, Class 3A's sixth-ranked squad.
Following a shaky start, Vinemont not only stood with its county rival but knocked them off their perch, escaping with a thrilling 6-5 triumph thanks to the “little ninth-grader who put a big swing on it” with the game on the line in the bottom of the seventh inning.
That “little ninth-grader” was none other than Garrett Boland, who stroked a walk-off double to the gap in left field to bring around John Michael Dye for the winning run. Dye had been standing on second after being beaned and subsequently sacrificed to second by Takota Milwood.
At this point in the academic year, Eagle coach Chad Shannon doesn't consider Boland a “true freshman.” He said the speedster, a two-way varsity starter on the football field this past fall, has been the “prototypical leadoff guy,” reaching base any and every way possible.
“It's one of those things where he's the 'it' factor,” Shannon said of Boland. “He's going to make it happen somehow, someway.”
Lance Stanley came in and weathered the storm for the last 5 2/3 innings on the mound to tally the decision. The southpaw struck out six and only gave up two hits in relief of Riley Foust, who allowed four earned runs in the first 1 1/3 frames.
Lukas Burch batted 2 for 3, while Kyle Dyer and Sam Wood each had a hit and a run.
Christian James was Hanceville's starter. Hayden Loggins was tagged with the loss.
Isaac Weissend and Austin Coker had a hit and run apiece for the county tourney champs.
Vinemont (5-13) is now in the driver's seat for the area-series victory. A win on Thursday at Hanceville (16-7) would wrap up the series, while a loss would make the nightcap a do-or-die for both teams.
Tuesday's second game, a five-inning 15-5 decision in the Dawgs' favor, counted toward each squad's overall record but not the area standings.
The game was tied at 2-2 in the second and 3-3 in the third before Hanceville pulled away on a plethora of errors and walks.
Coker was the winning pitcher after a 3 2/3-inning start. Branen Hurst was responsible for retiring Vinemont's last four batters.
Keith Twitty tacked on two hits in four at-bats, Isacc Hardin slugged a double and Loggins added a single.
Wood yielded five earned runs in 4 2/3 innings of work and joined Milwood and Dyer as teammates with hits. Milwood also scored a run.
“We’ve got to throw strikes and hit the baseball like we did in the second game,” Hanceville coach Michael Chandler said. “Give the credit to them (Vinemont). They were fired up the whole time. We’ve got to get some energy back in us and come out fired up from the first pitch.
“We know what we’re capable of. We’ve just got to show up and play ball.”
% The Times’ sports editor Rob Ketcham contributed to this report.