History repeats itself Friday as Cleburne County plays Oneonta in the second round of the AHSAA Class 4A baseball playoffs. Last year, the best-of-three series was played in Heflin and the Tigers eliminated the Redskins in a pair of one-run games. Cleburne County won 3-2 and 6-5.
This year’s games will be played at Oneonta. Friday’s doubleheader begins at 5 p.m. If a third game is necessary, it will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Cleburne County coach Vaughn Lee was able to see last Friday’s games between Oneonta and Munford when Cleburne County’s doubleheader was pushed back a day to Saturday because of rain. Lee said Wednesday that Oneonta appeared to have lost only two starters from last season. He described the Redskins as “very sound defensively.” He also reported all nine players in the batting order swing the bats.
“I think it’s going to be a good series,” Lee predicted.
Two excellent pitching performances carried Cleburne County past visiting Locust Fork Saturday. The Tigers won the first game 5-0 behind Brady Padgett. Padgett worked all seven innings and struck out nine Hornets. He gave up six hits and walked one. Tyler Berry pitched all five innings of Cleburne County’s 13-3 mercy-rule win in the second game. He fanned six, walked two and gave up six hits while allowing just one earned run.
“Brady pitched probably the best he’s pitched this year. … Berry pitched the second game, pitched real well, had good velocity and good stuff. That was what we were needing from our pitching staff – a guy to come in and he did a great job,” Lee said.
Lee said he felt the Tigers were “sluggish offensively” in the opener. They got one run in the second inning as Berry led off with a single. Austin Harler’s sacrifice bunt moved Berry to second and Cole Corkren’s base hit put runners on third and first. Freshman Mario Smith followed with an RBI single to left field and Berry scored.
Locust Fork threated in the top of the fourth when a double and a single put runners on third and second with one out. Padgett got a strikeout for the second out and a line drive to first base ended the threat. The Tigers made it 2-0 with a run in the fifth. Matthew Shortt walked on four pitches and McCain Carlile entered to run for Shortt. With one out, Anderson Jacks’ single to left moved Carlile to third and he scored from there on a sacrifice bunt by Ross Price.
In the top of the sixth, Padgett allowed a leadoff single then recorded three consecutive strikeouts. Three runs in the home half of the sixth provided some room for error. Berry came through with another leadoff base hit. With one away, Damion Benefield singled to right field and advanced to second on the throw. Freshman Chad Brown smacked an RBI single to center to make it 3-0. Shortt’s infield single scored Benefield for a 4-0 lead. Brown came home when Max Watson reached on an error.
Trailing 5-0, Locust Fork could muster just two infield ground-ball outs and a strikeout that ended the contest.
Berry was 3-for-3. Price had the only extra-base hit of the game for Cleburne County, a double. Watson, Shortt, Brown, Smith, Benefield, Corkren and Jacks each had a single.
In the second game, Cleburne County batted as the visitors and didn’t waste any time getting a lead for Berry with four runs in the top of the first. Jacks was hit by a pitch and Price singled. Padgett’s double sent Jacks home and it was 1-0. Berry’s sacrifice fly to center turned into an error on the fielder and Price scored. Padgett crossed the plate on a wild pitch and Harler’s sacrifice fly scored Josh Davis, running for Berry.
The Hornets tallied once in the bottom of the first. The Tigers answered quickly with three runs in the second. Carlile started the inning with a single and Watson bunted him to second. Carlile moved to third on a ground out by Jacks and scored on a passed ball. Consecutive singles by Price, Padgett and Berry loaded the bases and Harler mashed a two-run double to center, making it 7-1 Tigers.
Three hits, three walks, an error and two wild pitches led to six runs for the Tigers in the fourth inning. Padgett got an RBI on a ground out. Corkren stroked a two-run double. Shott’s single to center scored Trevor Houston, running for Corkren. With two down, Garrett Cheatwood singled Shortt home for a 13-1 lead.
Locust Fork scored two runs in the bottom of the fourth, trying to avoid the mercy rule. With the score 13-3, the Hornets started the fifth inning with a base hit. A double play from shortstop to second base to first cleared the bases and Berry fanned the next batter to end the game.
“We just made all the routine plays,” Lee said of the Tigers’ defense.
Price and Padgett each had two hits. Padgett, Harler and Corkren had a double apiece. Harler drove in three runs. Corkren and Padgett recorded two RBIs each. Price scored three runs. Jacks, Padgett and Davis each came home twice.