By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
KIMBERLY — After a first game with all the twists and turns of a country road, the only suspense about the second game was the answer to a question: Would Nathan Stover pitch a prefect game?
He didn’t, but he came very close.
The Mortimer Jordan junior was perfect through six innings, and yielded just a walk and a base hit down the left field line. But more importantly for his team, he kept Pinson Valley at bay for a 7-0 win, and a sweep of their first-round Class 5A playoff doubleheader.
The Blue Devils won the first game 7-6 in nine innings, after the Indians scored three runs in the top of the seventh to tie the game in a back-and-forth affair.
For Stover, it wasn’t just the closest he had ever come to perfection. He usually works in relief, so...
“it was my first complete game — ever,” the still-shocked pitcher said just afterward.
Stover was not on coach Shayne Carnes' original plan for the second game of the twin-bill. He was going to go with Justin Folse, one of his regular starters, and would use Wes Crawford on Saturday if Jordan and Pinson split Friday's games.
But when first-game starter Taylor Goodwin got in trouble in the seventh inning, Carnes had to bring Crawford in to try to stop the damage, And when that game went into extra innings, there was some juggling that had to be done.
"We were going to start running into problems with appearance limits if it went to a third game, so I told Nathan to be ready," Carnes said.
Stover didn't get a lot or warning, though that's common — Carnes doesn't usually tell his starters a day ahead of when they'll take the mound. "I don't do that because it gives them a lot to think about. I just say, 'Show up,' and then, 'You're pitching, let's go,'" he said.
"He told me when I went out and warmed up," Stover said. "I told him that I wanted to do it, and that I could do it. And I did. That was the best game I've ever pitched."
It was not an overpowering performance by Stover. He only threw two strikeouts, and the first didn't come until the fifth inning.
The perfect game went by the boards when designated hitter Baker Hodge drew a base on balls to start the seventh. After getting Destin Davidson to fly out to center field and then claiming Zac Ray as his second strikeout victim, Destin's twin brother Hunter came up and rapped a sharp line drive just inside the third base foul line for a double, ending the bid for a no-hitter and putting Pinson runners on second and third with two out.
Bur Stover got Brett Jordan to hit a grounder to shortstop, which was easily scooped up by Dalton Hudson and tossed to first to end the game and clinch the playoff sweep.
The Devils took control offensively in the early going, taking advantage of shaky Tribe pitching. Both Jordan runs in the first inning and one of three in the second scored off of wild pitches from starter Levi Miller, who left the mound after two outs in the second. Coach Shane Chappell pulled Miller after Hudson reached base on a passed ball on a third strike, and then Austin Davis got on board when Miller hit him with a pitch.
Hunter Davidson relieved Miller, and promptly served up a triple by Stover that brought home Hudson and Davis. Stover then scored on a wild pitch.
It was also a stellar game for Stover at the plate, as he went 4-for-4 with the two RBIs.
The Devils added two more runs in the fifth on run-scoring doubles from Davis and DH Brandon Couch, who was 2-for-4 for the game.
In the opening contest, the Indians started out strong, scoring single runs in each of the first three innings off Jordan starter Goodwin. Then the momentum swung the other way, as the Devils took the lead with four runs in the bottom of the third. Walker McCleney hit a triple off the bottom of the center field fence to score Folse, and McCleney crossed the plate when Stover doubled.
After moving to third on a wild pitch, Stover scored off a Crawford base hit. Crawford came in with the go-ahead run thanks to a hit by Garrett Davis.
Jordan scored two more in the fourth when Stover tripled, bringing home Hudson and Davis.
Pinson tied the game in the seventh when they smacked four straight hits after Hodge reached base on an error. A hit by Destin Davidson was followed by a double from Ray that scored Hodge, followed by RBI singles from Destin Davidson and Jordan.
The Indians had a chance to take the lead with two out in the eighth, with Hodge at third base and Destin Davidson at first thanks to back-to-back walks from Crawford. Chappell sent Davidson halfway to second as a decoy, trying to lure the the throw and let Hodge dash home behind — a play Chappell's used successfully in that situation several times before. But Davidson was tagged out trying to get back to first a fraction of a second before Hodge reached the plate, and the umpire waved off the run.
The Devils' winning run was set up by a lead-off hit by Davis, who was put out at third when McCleney hit into a fielder's choice. Stover then got on via an error on a grounder to first, sending McCleney to third. After Crawford was intentionally walked to load the bases, McCleney scored when reliever Brett Jordan's pitch went to the backstop.
Pinson had shelled Jordan pitching for 13 hits, with Jordan going 3-for-5 with an RBI, and Destin Davidson 3-for-4 with three runs scored. Zac Ray was 2-for-5 and drove home two runs, and Hunter Davidson was 2-for-4 with an RBI.
Davis, hitting in the ninth spot in the batting order for Jordan, was 2-for-4 for the game with a run scored.
Goodwin struck out six Tribe batters in 6.1 innings, while Crawford fanned two with two walks in 2.2 innings, as he got credit for the win for the Devils. Jordan took the loss, despite giving up just one hit in 4.1 innings.
Cranes was very happy with the effort from a team that he said isn't the most talented around. "But they're going to come out an compete, and hustle down the line, and we'll try to do every little thing to get an advantage - good, bad or indifferent. If we make a bunch of errors in the field, then we have to hit our way out of it... Our kids come to play, and that's all I can ask"
For Chappell's team, the sweep ended a season that saw Pinson (20-18) briefly ranked in the statewide top 10 in Class 5A.
"That first game was such a momentum swing, up and down," Chappell said. "After the eighth inning, I told my coaches that I felt like whoever won that first game was going to sweep. They [Jordan] got momentum on their side, and then when you have a guy on the mound that kind of pitches out of himself, that's tough to overcome."
Jordan (33-12) moves on to the second round, where they will face Walker, who swept Springville by scores of 2-1 and 1-0 on Friday. The Vikings finished second in Area 12 to the Devils, with Jordan taking two out of three games in March.