Gardendale senior Kendall Stricklin looks on as Buckhorn celebrates a Class 6A state softball championship in Lagoon Park. 

MONTGOMERY—Gardendale couldn’t seem to find the timely hit it needed on Friday in the Class 6A State Softball Tournament championship series against No. 2 Buckhorn. The third-ranked Rockets stranded 12 runners on base in a 4-1 series opening loss and left 11 more on base to drop the finale 3-2.

“We had our opportunities, but we didn’t get a timely hit when we needed it; that’s just the bottom line,” said Gardendale head coach Barry Brake.

Gardendale entered the day needing just one win over the Bucks, who they defeated 3-1 in the state semifinals on Thursday. The Rockets ran by Baldwin County 12-5 in the first round, beat Brookwood 6-0 in Round 2 and edged Buckhorn 3-1 in the semifinals before Friday’s sweep.

Those two losses were Gardendale’s first defeats of postseason play. Dating back to the 6A, Area 11 Tournament, the Rockets had won nine straight games by a combined score of 99-13. Brake’s senior-laden team ends this 2019 season as the 6A state runner-up. Eight Gardendale seniors graduate with two third-place finishes to go with this year’s runner-up.

“This is a fantastic run these kids have had,” said Brake. “I told them, ‘The only way you’re going to upset me is if you walk out of here with your head hung low. You’re 98-17 over a two-year run.’”

He added that he could not be more proud of his departing senior class which includes Kendall Stricklin, Carlee McCondichie, Savannah Pennington, Kaitlyn Clark, Jaycee Dill, Riley Phillips, Kylee Franklin and Madalyn Beach.

Buckhorn 4, Gardendale 1

It was a fifth-inning grand slam from Hannah Carey that beat Gardendale in the opener.

Her swing gave the Bucks a 4-1 advantage and answered Gardendale’s first run in the top-half. A pinch-hit single from Preslie Ross floated into the grass between first base and right field to scored Jaycee Dill for a 1-0 advantage that would not hold for long.

Ross’ RBI single was the Rockets’ only hit in 11 opportunities with runners in scoring position against Buckhorn lefty Alivia Wilken.

Wilken threw a complete seven innings, allowing five hits to go with six strikeouts and six hit batters.

Buckhorn 3, Gardendale 2

Buckhorn junior Hannah Carey poked a walk-off single up the middle in the bottom of the seventh, sending the Bucks off with the 6A state championship trophy.

With the bases loaded and no outs recorded and the infield playing up, Carey landed a soft line just beyond second base and the throw home was not in time.

“That ball was on the hands. It was just a little flair that we just weren’t able to get to because of positioning that the game dictated,” said Brake of the walk-off hit. “Give Buckhorn a lot of credit. They are a good team and they’ve had a high ranking all year for a reason.”

Gardendale senior Jaycee Dill tied the game at 2-2 in the fifth when she lifted a two-out home run over the top of the fence in center field. That would be her team’s only timely hit of the game.

Buckhorn’s first two runs came in the third inning. Infielder Kinley Adams rolled an RBI up the middle and a second run crossed following an infield throwing error.

Gardendale junior Haley Horton pitched the first six innings and handed the ball to Kaitlyn Clark in the seventh.

Clark, McCondichie and Phillips each earned all-tournament honors for the Rockets.

Erik Harris is the sports editor for The North Jefferson News. He can be reached at sports@njeffersonnews.com

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