AISA FINALS: Glenwood, Pike Liberal split to force Game 3
By Tim Gayle
Pike Liberal Arts found every break in the first game of the championship series with Glenwood School, but couldn’t find the key hit in the second game.
Now, as the Alabama Independent School Association AAA state baseball championship moves to a third and final game on Thursday morning, one team finds themselves in a familiar setting while the other is in uncharted water.
Pike Liberal (29-10) found all the breaks in a five-run sixth inning that lifted the Patriots to a 6-3 win in the opener on Wednesday at Paterson Field, then couldn’t deliver in a 2-1 loss in the second game.
“We had opportunities in that (first) game that we didn’t take advantage of,” Pike Liberal coach Allen Ponder said, “and our guys did a good job of relaxing and understanding we were going to get more opportunities and we eventually got the big hit.
“Glenwood’s got a very good baseball team and we understood from the get-go that if you give them extra opportunities they’re going to take advantage of them. And they took advantage of a couple of opportunities we gave them and that was the difference in the (second) game.”
For Glenwood (39-9), the ball bounced the wrong way in the opening game of the best-of-three series and took a fortuitous hop in the second game to keep the Gators’ season alive. It happened like that two weeks ago against Northside Methodist and then again last week against Monroe Academy.
“We had our opportunities early,” Glenwood coach Tim Fanning said, “which is apropos for the first game we’ve played in every round we’ve played in the playoffs. We get guys on and we don’t get a big hit early and it comes back to haunt us in the end. It’s the exact same thing that happened in the first round, the second round and now this round.”
In the first game, Slade James gave up three of the four hits he surrendered over the first five innings all in a rocky third inning, but a heads-up play that caught Cody Hollis in a rundown between second and third allowed the Gators to escape with only a 1-0 deficit. Glenwood scored a run in the fifth and another in the sixth for a 2-1 lead, then watched it all dissipate in a weird bottom half of the sixth.
After Hunter Jones picked up his third single in as many bats, Reed Jinright put down a bunt that James couldn’t handle as he tried to relay it to first. Tyler Hussey followed with a perfectly placed bunt single down the third-base line, Cole McWhorter followed with an infield chopper that got over the shortstop’s head and Jade Sikes added another chopper over the first baseman’s head that plated the two runs. Trevor Barron added an RBI groundout and suddenly a 2-1 Glenwood lead turned into a four-run deficit.
“It gets frustrating,” Glenwood senior pitcher Holley admitted, “but then it’s a new game. Anything can happen in any situation.”
Those breaks disappeared for Pike in the latter stages of the second game, in part because of the job Holley did on the mound. Wood Jinright scored the game’s first run in the fourth as the Pike Liberal junior ran to first on a mishandled third strike and continued to second base on a throwing error. He went to third on a wild pitch and came home on a fielding error for a 1-0 lead.
Glenwood answered in the fifth with a double by Josh Brown and a single by Brandon Moseley, with the game-tying run scoring on a wild pitch and the game-winning run on a single by Nick Adams.
In the seventh, a leadoff walk to Sikes and a one-out double by Cason Murphree put two runners in scoring position before Holley struck out Hollis and Jones to end the game.
“We came and swept last year, but we’ve been in this (situation) both series before (the finals) where we actually lost the first game and ended up winning the last game so we’re familiar with it this year,” Holley said. “Of course, you want to sweep but it’s fun coming in the last day knowing I’ve got the better team and I’m about to win.”
Ponder and the Patriots haven’t been in this situation before, having swept both playoff series in two games.
“We haven’t played (a third game) yet, but we’re excited for the opportunity,” Ponder said. “With the opportunities they had in the first game, we could just as easily be going home right now having lost the series. So for us to play well in the first game and give ourselves an opportunity to play a game three, I think they’re very excited about it.”
Fanning wants to make sure his team is just as excited for Thursday’s 11 a.m. matchup at Paterson Field.
“When you’re on top, it’s very hard to match the intensity of someone who hasn’t been,” Fanning said. “You’ve got to match their intensity. They’re coming after what you have and if you’re not ready intensity wise, then you’ll lose.”