ACA sitting pretty after series win over St. James
By Tim Gayle
It’s not always the same person and not always the same situation, which makes Alabama Christian’s 4-0 start in area play not only surprising but satisfying to head coach Don Gilliam.
“It’s somebody different every day coming through, which is a good sign,” Gilliam said. “We keep preaching the little bitty things – it’s the bunt to get the runner over, when you get a guy on third it’s hitting the ball the other way. Because baseball turns on a dime.”
On Friday afternoon, the game between St. James and ACA turned on a 3-ball-1-strike pitch that Dillon Hutchinson sent sailing over the leftfield fence, wiping out a 2-0 St. James lead. Hutchinson also delivered the game winner, a sacrifice fly in the sixth to break the 2-2 tie and propel the Eagles to a 5-2 victory at the AUM Dixie Youth complex.
In the 4A Area 4 standings, Alabama Christian is on top at 4-0 after sweeping Catholic and St. James with a series remaining against Trinity on April 6-7 and with LAMP on April 14. Trinity is 3-1 with ACA next and St. James on April 13-14. LAMP is in third at 2-2 with series remaining against Catholic on April 6-7 and ACA on April 13-14.
While St. James (2-4) isn’t eliminated from playoff contention, the Trojans would need a lot of luck to reach the postseason. The Trojans would have to sweep Trinity on April 13-14 (and probably win the tiebreaker as well), while both LAMP and Trinity would have to lose at least three of their remaining four area games.
Catholic (1-5) is eliminated from playoff consideration.
For ACA (10-10), it’s a surprising run after starting the season 1-6. Although the last two area series will be the toughest and the Eagles could find themselves sitting at home when the playoffs start, their resilience and confidence make them a hard out, which is what Gilliam hoped he would see entering the final month of the regular season.
“I kept telling our guys, keep grinding, the difficult schedule won’t do anything but make us better,” he said. “When we get in tough situations, we will have been there. I just believe our difficult schedule has helped us in difficult times. We started off the year with five new starters and it just took us a while.”
ACA won Thursday’s series opener, 4-2, as MJ Galloway surrendered just four hits in going the distance and struck out seven. Hutchinson supplied the game-winning hit in that contest as well as his two-out, two-run double in the sixth broke a 2-2 tie.
That made Friday’s game a do-or-die situation for the Trojans in the playoff race and they jumped on ACA start Grayson Evans with a pair of hits in the second and consecutive doubles by Teddy Bridges, Matthew Robinson and Brady Greene in the third that gave St. James a 2-0 lead.
But Hutchinson answered in the bottom half of the inning to tie the game and Evans settled down after that, allowing just two singles over the final four innings and recording his 11th strikeout, getting Josh Garnett on three pitches, to end the game.
“Our pitchers have been in the tough situations,” Gilliam said. “In the 1-6 start, the same guys on the mound now are the same guys that were pitching then. He was solid today. He threw one pitch at a time and whatever happened on that pitch, that pitch is gone, focus on the next pitch. Grayson threw us a gem tonight. He pitched with a lot of guts.”
ACA loaded the bases with one out in the fifth and Evans followed with a fly ball to right, but Hutchinson was slow to tag at third so Gilliam held him. Dusty Young followed with a groundout and the Trojans squandered a golden opportunity to score runs.
“It’s the little bitty things like a line drive fly ball, I tell our guys to come back and tag automatically and sometimes they find themselves (too far away) because they’re so eager,” Gilliam said. “Or we don’t get the bunt down. Or bunt it right back to the pitcher. That can cost you in really big games. So, yes, we feel really blessed to be 4-0 in the area.”
Blessed because, in an area race where things have been falling into place, the Trojans would give themselves the same opportunity in the sixth and deliver, with Hutchinson driving in John Thompson with a sacrifice fly and Galloway driving a two-run single up the middle two batters later.
Matthew Robinson went 3 for 4 for the Trojans.
In the second game, which didn’t count in the area standings, Russell Olsey drove in the winning run in the top of the 10th and Mitchell Madore picked up the win on the mound in a 5-4 victory by the Trojans.