Mitch Witcher stood in front of the visitor’s dugout rubbing his red goatee.

The facial hair has become somewhat of a trademark for the Good Hope High baseball coach. He’s had it for years.

He also knows it’s about to be gone… Well, at least until grows back.

Why? Because Witcher promised his players that he’d shave the goatee off if they won the program’s first county title since 1989.

“It’ll grow back. I hope it grows back,” said Witcher, whose Raiders had just defeated Holly Pond 8-5 in the Cullman County championship game Thursday night.

Temporarily removing facial hair was a price Witcher is willing to pay for a county title. Getting a bucket of water dumped over his head on a chilly night was worth it, too.

“Oh yeah, it’ll be alright,” said Witcher, who was a junior on Good Hope’s baseball team when the program won its last county title. “Winning this right here makes everything alright.

“You know, things like this mean a lot to the players. And I’m proud of them… Just really proud that they get to experience this.”

A spot in the championship game wasn’t guaranteed when Good Hope (8-4) arrived at the ballpark. The Raiders still had to beat West Point — which had ace pitcher Derek Basinger available — in a semifinal matchup.

Kyle Smith matched Basinger on the mound, out-dueling the Warriors ace in a 1-0 win. The Good Hope right-hander struck out 12 while holding West Point (6-9) to two hits.

When asked if he had ever thrown a 12-strikeout complete-game shutout before, Smith simply shook his head and said no. Witcher was a little more adamant.

“That’s probably the best game I’ve ever seen Kyle pitch,” the Raiders coach said. “Our guys have never been part of a game like that before — one where it’s scoreless in the late innings and there’s a tremendous amount of pressure to win.

“Every play was magnified. There was so much pressure. That was a big win for our team, and Kyle did an outstanding job on the mound to help us get it.”

Basinger was equally as good for West Point. The standout lefty struck out seven while holding Good Hope to four hits.

Unfortunately for West Point, one of those hits turned out to be the fatal blow.

It came in the bottom of the sixth inning when Scott Motes hit a hard line drive that landed in front of the right fielder.

West Point’s right fielder was unable to make the play and the ball rolled to the fence, allowing Kevin Thomas to score from first base. Motes reached third base after the fielding error.

One run was all Good Hope needed. Smith retired the side in the top of the seventh to punch the Raiders’ ticket to the championship game.

But it’s not like West Point didn’t have its chances to score.

In the top of the fourth, a throwing error gave West Point a runner at third base with no outs. But after two strikeouts and a ground ball, Smith was out of the inning unharmed.

“That’s the blow that killed us,” Warriors coach Scott Perry said. “We’ve got to get that run across. It’s just execution.”

After winning a tight game against West Point, Witcher was worried about how his team would respond against Holly Pond (6-8). Needless to say, the Raiders coach was pleased.

“That first game was emotionally draining,” he said. “I have to say that I was a little worried after playing a game like that. But these guys regrouped and played well. I’m very pleased with how they responded.”

Good Hope rallied back from a two-run deficit in the bottom of the first, rallying for three runs. But the big blow came two innings later.

With the score tied 3-3 in the bottom of the third, Good Hope scored four runs on three hits — capitalizing on two Holly Pond fielding errors. It gave Raiders pitcher Matt Blackmon a comfortable four-run cushion.

Smith led off the inning with a single and Jake Mann reached on an error. Dustin Varner pushed the first run across the plate with an RBI single.

A few batters later, Tyler Pepperton extended the lead to 5-3 with a sacrifice fly. Thomas also had an RBI single.

Good Hope extended the lead to five in the bottom of the fourth, but Holly Pond scored one in the fifth and one in the seventh.

Blackmon recorded the win, striking out 10 in the complete game.

Smith led Good Hope at the plate in the championship game, going 2-for-3 with a pair of singles. Mann went 2-for-4, while Varner went 2-for-2.

Eric Whitehead led Holly Pond at the plate with a pair of singles.

Now that Good Hope has snapped a 20-year title drought, it’s time to celebrate? Well, not exactly.

According to Witcher, the Raiders are now turning their attention to Class 3A, Area 12 play.

“I’m proud of the guys for winning this, but we still have a lot of work to do,” he said. “We want to do well in our area and make the playoffs. But for us to do that, we’ve got some stuff we need to correct.

“We’re going to turn our attention towards that now.”



Justin Graves can be reached by phone at 734-2131, ext. 257 or by e-mail at jgraves@cullmantimes.com.

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