Home runs cure Tigers' offensive ills
Justin Schuver, Sports Editor
GARDENDALE – Dogs are man's best friend. Diamonds are a girl's best friend. And after Saturday's 4-3 win over Gardendale, Hartselle coach William Booth probably feels that home runs are a coach's best friend.
"We didn't dodge a bullet," Booth said. "We dodged about 10 bullets. We left 10 runners on base today and 10 yesterday (in a 5-4 Gardendale win), and just weren't hitting in the clutch. (Gardendale) didn't leave very many on, and when they got them on base they got them in."
Jake Bradford's two-run home run to win the game in the bottom of the seventh covered up a lot of ugly statistics for Hartselle in the second-round series.
Just how lucky were the Tigers to survive? Consider these facts:
In both of its wins in the series, Hartselle was out-hit by the Rockets. In a 6-2 win in Game 1, the Tigers had nine hits to Gardendale's 10 and in the final game, Hartselle was out-hit 10 to five. Oddly, the only game where Hartselle out-hit Gardendale was the Game 2 loss where the Tigers had nine hits to the Rockets' eight.
In addition to leaving a combined 20 runners on base in the last two games, the Tigers hit just .227 (5-for-22) with runners in scoring position for the series.
In terms of overall batting average, Gardendale out-hit Hartselle .354 (28-for-79) to .315 (23-for-73).
Yet there was one number that stood out large for the Tigers and that was home runs – Hartselle 3, Gardendale 0.
Bradford's home run was certainly a big hit, but so was Joe McClanahan's solo shot earlier in the third game and Jordan Parker's two-run bomb that gave the team a nice cushion in the Tigers' win in the series opener.
Those long balls covered up for the Tigers' other offensive woes. Of the 14 runs Hartselle scored in the series, five were scored as a result of home runs.
The unranked Rockets started the best-of-three series as decisive underdogs, coming in with an 18-21 record compared to the 34-15 No. 6-ranked Tigers. And yet, the Rockets arguably outplayed the Tigers in the series and came just two outs short of pulling off the upset.
Bradford's home run kept Hartselle alive to play another day, which is all its coach can ask for right now.
"We're going to play next week," Booth said. "And that's all we want right now, is a chance to get (to the state championship) again."
It had to be infuriating for Booth to watch his team to leave the bases loaded not once, not twice, but three times in the series. In six other innings, the Tigers left two runners stranded on base.
Meanwhile, Gardendale played strong fundamental baseball. Its second and third runs in game three were perfect examples of "small ball" – get them on, get them over, get them in. Hartselle had no trouble with the first two parts of that formula, but the third continued to be a problem all weekend long.
The Rockets had six doubles and the rest of their 23 hits were all singles, but Gardendale was able to string hits together and score runs rather than needing to wait for the big home run to save them. Hopefully the Tigers were watching and taking notes.
Survive and advance is the mantra once you get to the playoffs, and the only statistic that ultimately matters is games won, and Hartselle ended on top in that category, 2-1.
But if the Tigers want to get back to Montgomery, they're going to have to reverse these offensive trends in a hurry, starting tomorrow. They can't keep dodging bullets.