Broken record: Cullman knocks Hartselle out again
Justin Schuver, Hartselle Enquirer
The Tigers hit a familiar roadblock in their quest for the Tigers' seventh state title.
Hartselle was swept out of the state semifinals by Cullman Saturday night for the third time in the last five years. The Tigers kept it close in a 2-1 loss in the opener but were shutout by the Bearcats and senior pitching star Caleb Clay in Game 2, losing 8-0.
Hartselle coach William Booth can take some positives from his team's semifinal loss this season, particularly when it comes to next year's returning pitching. Four of the five pitchers Hartselle used in the series – freshmen Luke Bole and Chad Girodo, sophomore J.C. Bates and junior Will Rankin – will be back next year.
"We've got a lot of young guys pitching who will be back next year and they'll work hard," Booth said. "The future looks pretty bright for us."
The seniors who played their last game in a Hartselle uniform were Alex Agee, Steven Chop, Nathan Kimbrell, Daxton Maze, Keith McCaghren, Joe McClanahan, Jordan Parker, Cline Thompson, Cody Stisher and Jacob Wray.
Hartselle's season ended at 38-18. Cullman moved on to face Stanhope Elmore in the Class 5A state championship.
Bates stayed neck-and-neck with senior Zac Ivey, but the Tigers could not solve Ivey and the Hartselle sophomore took the hard-luck loss in Game 1.
Bates held the Bearcats' normally-potent offense dormant until the fourth inning, when Matt Drake blasted a two-run home run over the scoreboard in right field.
Hartselle scored a run in the sixth inning to cut the lead in half, but stranded the potential tying run at second base. Rankin pitched two scoreless innings in relief of Bates, who went five innings and allowed six hits.
"J.C. and Rankin pitched a heck of a game, but we just couldn't get the big hit we needed," Booth said.
The Tigers squandered a golden opportunity to take the lead in the first inning. Justin Hargett led off with a single and Parker followed with a bunt single to put runners on first and second with nobody out. McClanahan failed to get down a sacrifice bunt on the way to striking out and Ivey retired Maze and McCaghren to end the threat.
"That first inning where we couldn't score a run was probably what killed us," Booth said.
In the sixth inning, Parker reached on an error with one out and McClanahan followed with a single. Maze then collected Hartselle's only RBI of the series, lacing a single to left field that scored Parker and moved Tyler Young, pinch running for McClanahan, to second base. Ivey got McCaghren and Bradford to each pop out to strand Young at second, then retired the Tigers in order in the seventh to close out the victory for Cullman.
It didn't take Cullman long to assert itself against Hartselle in Game 2. Josh Rutledge led off the bottom of the first inning with a solo home run and the Bearcats cruised from there.
The Bearcats scored three runs in the second and four runs in the sixth inning, finishing with 10 hits total against the Hartselle trio of McCaghren, Bole and Girodo.
Clay took a no-hitter into the sixth inning before Daxton Maze hit a single with two outs in the sixth to break up that no-hitter. It was the only hit Hartselle managed off the Cullman senior.
"He just overpowered us," Booth said. "We put the ball in play quite a bit, but it just wasn't very hard. They made the plays defensively and that's all you can say."
McCaghren started the game for the Tigers, allowing four earned runs in 1.1 innings. He was replaced by Bole, who pitched 3.2 innings and allowed two earned runs while striking out two. Girodo finished the game, going an inning and allowing two runs.