MONTGOMERY — Capital City skies brought the lightning, and Cullman brought the thunder.
The top-ranked Bearcats slugged 10 hits during Thursday’s Class 6A state championship series against No. 2 Helena, riding a fantastic offensive performance to a 9-1 triumph at Montgomery’s Patterson Field to put themselves in great position for a potential Blue Map trophy.
Though inclement weather delayed the outing more than an hour, coach Brent Patterson’s team couldn’t be slowed in the batter’s box before or after the untimely break.
The Black and Gold put together solid at-bats, laid down tremendous bunts and took advantage of eight costly errors by the Huskies to secure an early cushion they never relinquished.
“We had some great swings tonight,” Patterson said. “Their guy is so good when he’s down in the zone, but we laid off some close pitches and got better ones to hit. I was really proud of how we went and got balls that were up. The approach and the maturity and the composure our guys showed tonight was incredible.”
Noah Fondren led off the first inning with a single and was moved to second on a Levi Thomas sacrifice before back-to-back walks by Owen Lovell and Jacob Heatherly loaded the bases with only one out. After a Carter Bowen infield fly, Trent Price ripped a grounder to second baseman Landon Green, whose errant throw to first base after a diving snare led to two unearned runs and a 2-0 lead for the Bearcats.
They kept the pressure on in the second frame.
Caleb Lipsey (single), Fondren (walk) and Thomas (error) all reached to bring up Lovell, who stroked a laser beam to the left center field gap to score two before Heatherly added another run with a bloop RBI single to make it 5-0.
“I thought Trent’s at-bat in the first inning was the biggest of the game,” Patterson said. ‘That was a huge spot for us. Helena could have gotten out of that with no damage. But Trent just worked the count and got a pitch to handle. After that, everybody relaxed and breathed. And then we got a lot more hits.”
The offensive explosion couldn’t have come at a better time for Heatherly, who tossed 6 1/3 innings and allowed just two hits. And although he pitched out of trouble here and there, the powerful left-hander felt much more at ease on the mound with a comfortable lead.
“It’s always nice to have that,” the Alabama commit said. “It let me attack the hitters and throw strikes. I was really happy about that. The delay … it didn’t bother me too much. I just tried to stay loose and then did what I could out there.”
Cullman, which led 6-1 before the lightning came, notched two runs right after the restart with Wheeler Eastman’s RBI single and a throwing error by the Huskies shortstop. Ben Smith had the final run in the sixth inning on yet another Helena miscue.
Lipsey (three hits), Lovell (two hits and two RBIs), Price (two hits and one RBI), Heatherly (two hits and one RBI), Eastman (one hit and one RBI), Thomas (one hit) and Fondren (one hit) all delivered at the plate for the Black and Gold, who improved to 38-7 and 9-0 in the postseason.
Michael Myers needed only three pitches to induce the game-winning double play in relief of Heatherly during the seventh frame.
Helena was paced by Nash Adams (double), James Davis (single) and Brooks Brophy (RBI). Davis suffered his first loss of the season on the mound, scattering seven hits, three earned runs and four walks in three tough innings.
The Bearcats will look to end the series on Friday with a 10 a.m. contest at Riverwalk Stadium. An if-necessary game would take place immediately afterward at approximately 1 p.m.
Patterson was no doubt pleased with his squad’s effort on Thursday night. At the end of the day, however, it doesn’t mean a whole lot to the seasoned coach, who’s been on both sides of the coin throughout his time with the Black and Gold program.
“It snowballed for them tonight,” he said. “There’s no way in the world they aren’t going to show up tomorrow and give it the best they have. If we think it’s over because we won handily tonight, we are going to be playing a Game 3 and fighting for our lives.
“Tonight means absolutely nothing if we don’t show up and fight the next day. We’ve got to come out there, have competitive at-bats, throw strikes and play defense. The results will take care of themselves. We’ll put this behind us and hopefully come back strong.”