By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
A classic pitching duel was decided by untimely walks, wild pitches and errors, as Gardendale defeated Pinson Valley 2-0 in the finals of the Jefferson County Schools Baseball Tournament.
The victory, in a game played at Birmingham-Southern College that was delayed by rain from Monday night, gave the Rockets their second straight county championship.
Gardendale starting pitcher Carter Burns turned in an excellent pitching performance, who allowed just a walk and a single through six innings.
Indians starter Bailey Chesser kept Gardendale under control for five innings, facing just 17 batters and giving up no hits and three walks (with one of those walked caught stealing to end the inning).
But Rocket third baseman Chris Walton, hitting ninth in the batting order, got the first hit of the night, then went to second on a wild pitch. After Chris Blakey was hit by a pitch and J.M. Matthews reached on a throwing error by Chesser, the bases were full of Gardendale runners with no outs.
After Seth Alford popped up to shortstop, Joseph Calvert laid down a squeeze bunt which he beat out, allowing Walton to score. First baseman Chris Martin then hit a grounder that sent home Blakey.
After Jake Freeman walked to load the bases again, Pinson coach Shane Chappell had seen enough, and brought in reliever Brad Eckmyre to finish. He promptly struck out Hunter Crook to end the inning.
Pinson’s only threat came in the seventh, when shortstop Josh Fines beat out a ground ball to short for a single. First baseman Tyler Evans then lined a 1-0 pitch sharply to center field for a double, putting both Indian runners in scoring position with one out.
Gardendale coach Pat Keedy didn’t take any chances. He took Burns off the mound, bringing Walton to put out the fire. Walton did just that, striking out designated hitter Austin Little, then getting right fielder Zac Ray to pop up, which Walton handled himself to clinch the championship.
Burns finished the night with six strikeouts, three hits and one walk in 6-1/3 innings. Walton picked up the save.
“It was an exciting, well-pitched game by both guys,” Keedy said. “Walton did a great job of coming in and finishing for us. Carter had a great game, and he pitched well against a really good team.”
Chesser finished with four strikeouts, four walks, one hit and one earned run in 5-2/3 innings. Eckmyre struck out three in 1-1/3 innings of relief work.
Chappell was pleased with his starter’s work, but not so much with the Indians’ hitting.
“Bailey had done a great job the whole game, but he struggled a bit that inning,” Chappell said. “We got to do a better job of having a sense of urgency at the plate early in the game, which I feel we didn’t do tonight. In the last couple of games we’ve waited until the last two innings to get things going offensively, and you can’t do that every time, especially when you’re going against a guy who’s throwing pretty good like [Burns] was.”
Gardendale hosts Mortimer Jordan on Friday night in a rivalry game, while heads south for spring break to play in the Florida-Alabama Challenge next week.