By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
GARDENDALE — Clutch hitting defined the day for Gardendale, as they beat Hueytown 6-4 on Thursday to advance to the finals of the Jefferson County Schools Baseball Tournament.
The Rockets did something they haven’t been able to do recently: bring runners on base home to score. Five two-out hits in the third and fourth innings led to four runs that ultimately led to the victory.
“We played really well, to be honest,” Gardendale coach Pat Keedy said. “We had some big clutch hits — that was the biggest difference. We had guys on, and we got guys in, which we’ve been struggling with. It was a lot of fun.”
Some stout pitching from Chris Walton kept the Golden Gophers at bay, as the Rocket hurler recorded 10 strikeouts, four hits and two earned runs. It also helped his team overcome fielding mistakes that led to two unearned runs in the third inning that tied the game.
“[Walton] was a good pitcher last year, and he’s a good one this year. What’s good about him is that he can spot the ball and throw three pitches for strikes. He’s hard to score off of,” Keedy said.
The Rockets took the early lead with a pair of runs in the first, as lead-off man Bryce Jay got on board with a hit, moved to third on a Chris Blakey double and scored on a passed ball. Blakey came home on a ground-out by Seth Alford.
After Hueytown tied the game in the third, Gardendale came back with two runs off three straight two-out hits: a double by Joseph Calvert that scored Blakey, a Chris Martin hit that moved Blakey to third, and A Jake Freeman single to score Calvert.
It was a similar pattern in the fourth, as RBI hits by Jay and Calvert did the damage.
The Gophers made things interesting in their final at-bats, as designated hitter Caleb Rottenberry lined a screamer over the left field wall for a two-run homer.
The Rockets move on to the championship game Monday night at 6 p.m. at Birmingham-Southern College, where their opponent will be Pinson Valley, the ninth-ranked team in Class 5A. The Indians took 10 innings to defeat Pleasant Grove 4-2 in the other semifinal game.