Pinson Valley was in the driver’s seat and looking to take the next exit toward 10-run Rulesville on a rainy Friday afternoon, as the Class 6A state baseball playoffs began. The Indians led Gardendale 7-2 going to the bottom of the fifth inning, and that’s when everything changed.

The Rockets finally found a timely hit against Pinson Valley starter Joseph Smith, who had held the Area 11 champions 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position until Gardendale senior Hayes Haygood singled in two runs that cut the deficit to 7-4 and opened the door to a 10-run fifth inning for the home team. Gardendale would go on to win the series opener 15-7.

Smith was pulled following Haygood’s line drive, leaving the ball to a bullpen which was unable to protect a three-run lead. The Rockets poured eight runs on sophomore William Tarpley who was quickly chased after stepping in for Smith in the fifth, and put three more runs on Barry White in the sixth.

“He’s got a good arm, he’s a good pitcher,” said Gardendale head coach Ryan Keedy of Smith. “But once he came out it was like a switch flipped and we shifted into another gear and put some balls in play and had some good, quality at-bats.”

Haygood, despite a flat performance on the rubber, brought serious oomph to the batter's box. The senior starter surrendered seven runs on five hits in three-plus innings pitched, but went 3 for 4 at the dish with six RBIs in the playoff win.

Haygood swung in four runs during Gardendale’s massive fifth inning with a single and a double, singled in another run in the sixth and lifted a sacrifice fly to center in the third.

“I feel good for Hayes [Haygood] because he didn’t have his best stuff, but he knocked in some big runs, so good for him because it was heading in the wrong direction for him today,” said Keedy.

Haygood had plenty of help in the Rockets’ lineup thanks to two RBIs apiece from seniors Colt Belcher and James Hancock. Shortstop Presley Walker finished 2 for 3 with a run-scoring walk and third baseman Hunter Henson reached on four walks for the home team.

The first few punches of the day were landed by Pinson Valley. After stranding the bases loaded in the first and leaving another runner on in the second, Pinson turned the key in the home-half of the third when Smith rolled an RBI singe through the 3-4 hole for a 1-0 lead. That led to a three-run third, as a passed ball moved runners up to second and third, and TJ Chastain sent them both home with a two-out single up the middle.

Gardendale did manage to get a run back in the home-half thanks to a sacrifice fly to center from Haygood, but the Indians stretched their lead to 7-1 in the top of the fourth.

Sophomore Hagen Gingras one-hopped the fence in left field—a long, hanging flight—to score one of four fourth-inning runs for the runner-up out of Area 12. Smith followed up an RBI single from Tarpley with a two-run skip down the chalk in right field, which gave the Tribe its biggest lead of the game at 7-1.

Game 2 is scheduled for Saturday at noon at Gardendale High School.

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

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