Gardendale dropped its first playoff game on Friday night at home, and did so in dramatic fashion.
The Rockets (22-9) split a third-round doubleheader with No. 8 Hueytown (31-11) and are scheduled to return to the diamond on Saturday at 1 p.m. for a decisive Game 3. The winner will draw No. 7 Cullman in the Class 6A semifinals next week.
Game 1: Gardendale 5, Hueytown 4
A two-out single from junior Noah Reeves skipped past the mound and outran two middle infielders to the spot where dirt stops and green grass begins. That ninth-inning single scored third baseman Hunter Henson, who reached on a fielding error, from second and brought a marathon to an end in Game 1 of a best-of-three playoff series.
The game went into extras tied at 4-4—a score that held for five innings until Reeves rounded first and watched Henson slide head first across the plate.
Gardendale trailed throughout the first three frames, but locked it at 4-4 with a two-out rally. No. 2 hitter Isaac Sims started the surge with an RBI line drive back up the middle and Hayes Haygood followed with a chopper that was mishandled at second, allowing the equalizer to climb home in the fourth.
After yielding runs in three of the first four frames, Rocket starter Hunter Stokes fought off the Gophers for his remaining four innings. The senior allowed four runs on six hits to go with six strikeouts in eight innings of work.
Stokes worked out of major trouble in the top of the first. Hueytown would load the bases with no outs, but managed only a single run off a walk from Luke Nolen. Stokes slammed the door with back-to-back-to-back strikeouts, stranding the Gophers loaded and limiting the visitors to a 1-0 lead.
However, Hueytown would add to that in the second. Levi Weaver led off with a walk and later ran home on a double from Cade Morgan into left-center field. Spencer Jinks followed with an RBI line up the middle for a 3-0 advantage.
The deficit grew by one thanks to a pair of throwing errors in the fourth. Weaver reached and took second following an errant throw to first. He would score from second moments later on a passed ball thanks to a sloppy exchange from the backstop to the plate. Hueytown’s lead stretched to 4-2.
Gardendale would answer with two runs in the bottom of the fourth to even things at 4-all—a score that held until the ninth-inning race to center field.
Game 2: Hueytown 4, Gardendale 3
Gardendale took its first lead of the night at 3-2 in the top of the seventh inning, but was unable to defend the bottom-half and complete what would’ve been the Rockets third straight series sweep.
Hueytown loaded the bases for Luke Nolen, who evened the score at 3-3 with an RBI single before Ryan Franklin walked it off with a deep extra-base hit into dead center field, forcing a third game on Saturday.
Gardendale starter Hayes Haygood pitched six strong innings, but was pulled for Presley Walker in the seventh following consecutive walks. Haygood struck out seven batters in his six frames on the bump.
He pitched from behind virtually the entire game, as Hueytown posted a single run in the first and added a second in the sixth. Gardendale junior Isaac Sims locked things up at 1-1 in the fifth when he sent a triple into left field. As he coasted into third, a sloppy exchange from outfield to infield sent the ball rolling into the backstop, allowing Sims to sprint home for a 1-1 tie.
Hueytown jumped right back out front when pinch-hitter Reid LaFoy carried Noah Reeves in left field for a run-scoring triple. The Rockets answered with their biggest offensive burst of the game in the top of the seventh. Pinch-hitter Will Nesmith led it off with a double, followed by a two-out RBI single from Sims and a go-ahead RBI single from Haygood that sent Gardendale to the bottom half with a 3-2 advantage. Three outs away from a sweep in the quarterfinals.
The go-ahead from Hayes Haygood. 3-2 Gardendale as we go to B7. pic.twitter.com/aM7frWzYHF— Erik Harris (@jeharris2) May 4, 2019
But Haygood walked two, Walker stepped in and the eighth-ranked Gophers found the timely hits they needed to survive to see another day.