The Jags scored a dramatic bottom-of-the-seventh 3-2 win in Friday’s Game 1.
Game 2 — and a berth to the Class 6A state finals — was chugging right along, too. Colt Freeman carried a no-hitter into the sixth with a four-run cushion.
But it wasn’t just that the wheels fell off for Spain Park. Everything from the transmission to the brake pads laid on the mound as Oxford made a pile at home plate to celebrate its stunning 5-4 win.
“I honestly didn’t think it would happen like that,” Oxford senior Tucker Simpson said. “I hoped we could get two in the sixth and then come back with a shot in the seventh.”
With an incoming weather system a concern for the central part of the state, today’s Game 3 has been moved up to 10 a.m. at Spain Park. Oxford won the coin toss and will be the home team.
The weather caught most by surprise as Oxford scrambled after the game to attempt to find a hotel to stay at overnight — an attempt they eventually scrapped.
Much like Simpson, Jackson Stephens, the winning pitcher, said the quick comeback and Freeman’s quick downturn took him by surprise, too.
Oxford’s two seniors weren’t being pessimistic. Few — if anybody — would have seen it coming. Especially considering how the Yellow Jackets played up until that point.
With top-quality pitchers on the mound, runs were sparse for both squads in the first game. An outfield error made Simpson the tough-luck loser against Spain Park’s Hunter Hall. Freeman took the mound for the second game, and the eight hits Oxford managed in the first game were nowhere to be found against Freeman.
“He’s effectively wild,” Oxford coach Wes Brooks said of Freeman, an Alabama signee. “You never know what you’re going to get with him; we laid off early in the count, tonight. Clearly that didn’t work.
“Tonight, he was on.”
Freeman notched first-pitch strike after first-pitch strike getting ahead in the count, and in the process, racked up 12 strikeouts through five innings of the no-hitter.
But that’s when it all stopped.
In the sixth inning, a much-questioned strike zone became hard for Freeman to find. Stephens started it with a walk. Simpson followed with one of his own. Will Davis reached on an error and Joe McGuire came through with unquestionably the biggest hit for Oxford all night.
After going 3-for-3 in the first game, his single not only broke up the no-hitter, but it plated a run and kept the bags full for Trent Simpson’s heroics. All this for a guy that typically doesn’t face lefties.
Last week and in the first game, he’s a combined 6-for-6 against southpaws.
“With the way he’s been hitting,” Brooks said. “There’s no way I couldn’t leave him in.”
Freeman, though, wasn’t staying in. After McGuire’s single, Mikey White entered and Trent Simpson promptly provided the difference.
Down 0-2 in the count, Simpson, a junior and younger brother of Tucker, delivered a blow as big as his 6-foot-5 frame, even if it wasn’t what he called a solid stroke.
“(Tucker) told me the curve ball was his strikeout pitch,” Trent said. “ … I was really just trying to fight it off, honestly — I didn’t want to strike out.”
Trent’s triple cleared the bases and tied the score at 4-all, where it stood through six. Oxford’s Zach Lovvorn, today’s Game 3 starter, kicked off the seventh inning with a stand-up double. He was sacrificed over to third and then scored on an error.
The excitement was instantaneous — even if two innings earlier they wouldn’t have guessed it.
“I don’t know how many people expected us to come back like that,” Brooks said. “But what I do know is we’ve got 13 seniors, and they believe in each other and they knew this wasn’t going to be their last game.”
Bran Strickland is the assistant managing editor for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3590 or follow him on Twitter @bran_strickland.