Cleburne County’s 6-1 win over Lincoln on Thursday of last week in Lincoln made the Tigers Class 4A, Area 10 champions and eliminated Lincoln from a playoff berth. A 5-3 loss at Munford two days earlier had the Tigers with their collective backs against the wall in the fight to extend their streak of consecutive playoff appearances.
In response, Brady Padgett pitched a seven-inning complete game against the Golden Bears. He allowed six hits and one earned run, did not issue a walk and fanned nine.
“We pretty much got on his back. ... We absolutely had to,” Cleburne County head coach Vaughn Lee said of Padgett, whose baseball season was delayed as he recovered from surgery for an injury suffered late in the football season. “That was good for him. He’s getting there.”
“Munford and Lincoln both have one very good arm and we saw both of them at their place,” Lee added.
As it turned out, the Tigers got all the runs they needed in the top of the first inning. Anderson Jacks drew a lead-off walk and moved to second on Austin Harler’s ground ball out. Padgett helped his own cause with an RBI single. Another walk, this time to Tyler Berry, and Cole Corkren’s single loaded the bases for Ross Price. Price’s single to right field scored Mario Smith, running for Padgett.
Cleburne County got one more run in the sixth. Corkren reached on an error to start the inning. Running for Corkren, Trevor Houston moved from first to third on an errant pickoff throw. Price picked up his second RBI of the game with a ground-ball out that scored Houston.
Lincoln combined three hits and hit batsman in the bottom of the sixth for its lone run.
The Tigers got three insurance run in the top of the seventh. Jacks led off with a single and Harler walked. Padgett singled to left and Jacks scored on an error. With one down, Harler scored and Padget moved to third base on a wild pitch. Corkren walked. With Price up, Corkren and Padgett executed a double steal that scored Padgett and left Corkren at second.
Jacks and Padgett each had two hits. Corkren, Price, Smith and Damion Benefield added one hit apiece. All eight of the hits for the Tigers were singles.
Cleburne County begins its tenth consecutive playoff appearance at home Friday against Locust Fork. Friday’s doubleheader starts at 4:30 p.m. and Lee said Padgett will be on the mound for the Tigers. If the best-of-three series extends to Saturday, that game will also be played in Heflin with first pitch at 3 p.m.
Lee said Wedneday morning he hadn’t been able to get much information about the Hornets. He said what he has learned leads him to believe Locust Fork will have three very good hitters at the top of their batting order, three pitchers with excellent control who throw strikes and locate pitches well and a very sound defense. Locust Fork had rolled to 11 consecutive wins before losing to area champion Oneonta 4-0 on April 8.
“You’re going to have to play well to beat them,” Lee said, noting that the Hornets took the middle game of their Oneonta series 11-4. “They’re the kind of team that’s going to force you to play well. If you don’t, they’re going to beat you.”
At home Saturday, Cleburne County defeated Saks 16-2 in five innings then fell to Guntersville 8-4. Nine runs in the home half of the first inning took the mystery out of the Saks game quickly. Benefield had a two-run single to get the scoring started. Price walked with bases loaded for an RBI. Matthew Shortt’s sacrifice fly brought another run home then Priced scored when the Wildcats committed one of their five errors.
Trey Bolton and Jacks each walked to load the bases again and Harler got an RBI the hard way when he was hit by a pitch. Smith and Jacks scored on another error. Houston, running for Harler, scored the ninth run of the inning on a wild pitch.
The Tigers added four runs in the second, one in the third and two in the fourth as younger players got extensive playing time.
Starter Garrett Cheatwood pitched three scoreless innings for the win. He gave up two hits, walked one and struck out four. Avery Gentry worked the final two innings and fanned two.
Harler finished with two singles and three RBIs. Padgett and Corkren each had two singles. Corkren had two RBIs. Shortt doubled in his only official at-bat and drove in two runs. Dawson Howle had a double and an RBI and Smith added a single and an RBI. Jacks, McCain Carlile and Josh Davis each had one single.
A big seventh inning carried Guntersville past Cleburne County in the nightcap.
“Just like we always play Guntersville, it was a great game,” Lee said. “It was 4-4 going into the seventh. They hit the ball in the seventh and beat us 8-4 but we played well, played very well. … It was a classic. It really was. Every time we play Guntersville it’s like that.”
Berry started and allowed three runs, all earned, over four innings. He walked two and struck out five over 80 pitches.
“He was a big bright spot,” Lee said, adding that Berry might start the second game against Locust Fork.
Berry’s double was the only extra-base hit for the Tigers. Max Watson singled twice and drove in two runs. Jacks and Harler each had one hit and one RBI. Corkren and Shortt had one hit each.