By Erik Harris
North Jefferson News
GARDENDALE — After winning their second straight Jefferson County Schools Tournament championship on Wednesday, Gardendale found a way to stay hot and defeat Mortimer Jordan 4-2 on Friday.
The Rockets have been on a tear lately, winning eight of their last nine games. Defense has been key for Gardendale this season. With the exception of surrendering 13 runs in a game back in February, the Rockets are averaging less than two runs allowed per game.
Senior pitcher Chris Walton went the distance, striking out 10 batters while yielding only three hits.
He was tested in the top of the seventh with two outs, a runner on base and the dangerous Garrett Suchey at the plate with a chance to even the score with one swing of the bat.
Walton bore down and got Suchey to ground out to second, ending the game and giving the Rockets their tenth win of the season.
“I told [Walton] that he was tough tonight,” said Gardendale coach Pat Keedy. “He was running out of gas, that’s the most pitches he’s thrown this year. But boy, he really made a strong comeback in that last inning.”
The rivalry game remained scoreless through three innings before the Blue Devils drew first blood in the fourth. Pinch runner Wesley Crawford scored on a passed ball that sneaked by the mitt of Rocket catcher Jake Freeman.
Freeman would quickly redeem himself by following up Hunter Crook’s fourth inning double with a one-out single into left, scoring the designated hitter and tying the contest at 1-1.
After throwing errors by Jordan, Gardendale (10-3) pushed two more across and took a 3-1 advantage into the fifth.
“We try to put pressure on [defenses] by moving guys and hitting-and-running and bunting and all kinds of stuff, but that’s what we are and we can be pretty good at it,” said Keedy.
Suchey did all he could, pitching 5-1/3 innings, surrendering only three hits and recording seven strikeouts. But errors plagued Jordan once again.
The Devils threatened in the top half of the fifth with runners on first and second and no outs. A great defensive play by first baseman Chris Martin, followed by back-to-back strikeouts from Walton killed Jordan’s rally attempt with two runners stranded on base.
The visitors never stopped swinging and pulled to within one after a clutch two-out RBI single from senior Brandon Spears. However, that’s as close at the Devils would get.
Gardendale manufactured an insurance run in the sixth to claim a 4-2 lead that Jordan (16-5) was unable to overcome.
The middle of the Rocket order came up big in Friday night’s game. Crook went 1-for-2 from the plate with a double, a walk and two runs scored. Freeman was zoned in and did what few have done by going 3-for-3 against Suchey.
Gardendale will travel south for spring break to compete in the Panama City Invitational, which starts on Monday. The Devils will also get back to action on Monday in their annual Spring Break Tournament, which includes Corner and Hayden.