The Lions have scored runs in bunches lately. Brooks began this season’s Class 4A playoffs by sweeping Priceville 17-0 and 11-6. In the second round, Brooks defeated Central of Florence 10-2 and 17-0.
“They’ve won 40 games this year and they have three good arms. They swing it well. They’ve hit a lot of home runs this year,” was Cleburne County coach Vaughn Lee’s just-the-basics scouting report on Brooks.
The Lions’ pitching staff features right-handers Paden Smith and Tanner Graham and lefty Ryan Masonia. Smith, back from knee surgery, will play at Wallace-Hanceville next year. Also headed to Wallace is leadoff batter Drake Tucker. Tucker opened Game 1 against Central with a double and Game 2 with a home run. Those familiar with Brooks say the Lions are strong at the plate from the top to the bottom of their order.
The Tigers advanced by sweeping visiting Oneonta 3-2 and 6-5 Friday. Later that night, Lee called the contests the “best two games ever.”
Prior to Tuesday’s practice, Lee expanded on his thoughts.
“They had a lot of class about them and their coach (Matt Lambert) is a classy guy. They played just good, hard-nosed, solid baseball and I thought we did the same,” Lee said. “Both teams were playing so hard and it was so intense, just a great atmosphere.”
When the last out was recorded, “Our players, they were excited because that’s the first time in school history that we’ve gotten to the quarterfinals. They were just very, in a lot of ways, humble and appreciative and very respectful of Oneonta and their efforts,” said Lee. “We were excited but we also were thankful and appreciative of where we were. It was fun but we were all exhausted, I think.”
The opening game was a back-and-forth affair, small-ball from the outset. With one out in the top of the first, Oneonta strung together three hits for a 1-0 lead. Cleburne County responded immediately. Ethan Norton led off the first with a double. John Butler walked and a ground out moved Norton to third. From there, Brady Padgett’s sacrifice fly sent Norton home with the tying run.
Norton and the Tigers were back in business in the home half of the third. Norton singled and stole second base. He reached third on a ground ball by Butler and scored when Blake Turner drove a base hit back up the middle.
The lead didn’t last long. In the top of the fourth, Oneonta loaded the bases on two Cleburne County errors and a hit batter. A ground out to the right side of the infield got the tying run home. With two out and runners at third and second, the No. 2 batter for the Redskins hit a shot toward the gap in left center that Ross Price ran down to end the inning and the threat.
“That saved the whole day, I thought. (Price) got a great jump on it,” Lee said.
The score remained 2-all until the bottom of the seventh when Oneonta changed pitchers. The new hurler walked Price and Norton. With one out, Turner reached on an infield error to load the bases. Padgett got a solid hit down the third base line that the third baseman deflected but could not field cleanly to prevent Price from scoring the winning run.
Padgett went the distance for the win, allowing five hits and striking out three over seven innings. Chase Davis, Matthew Shortt and Bailey Camp each had a single in the opener.
In the nightcap, Cleburne County batted as the visitors and reached the scoreboard first. In the third inning, Butler was hit by a pitch. With one out, Turner mashed an RBI triple and Padgett followed Turner with an RBI single.
Oneonta turned a hit batsman and three walks by Camp plus two hits into four runs in the bottom of the third for a 4-2 lead. Camp struggled with his control early. Two walks and an infield hit loaded the bases with no outs in the Oneonta first then Camp showed why his teammates call him ‘Houdini’, getting the first out with a strikeout and the final two on a 4-6-3 double play started by Turner at second base.
Despite eight walks in the first three innings, Lee stayed with Camp.
“They weren’t hitting him. He was just missing it. … After (the third inning), he settled in and he didn’t walk another guy until the seventh,” Lee said.
Another Oneonta run in the fourth made it 5-2. Then it was Cleburne County’s turn to score.
Norton started a three-run rally in the fifth with a one-out double. With two down, Turner walked and Padgett doubled over the head of the leftfielder to score Norton and Turner. Catcher Chase Davis’ RBI single got Padgett home with the tying run.
In the seventh, Chase Davis doubled with one out and Lee sent his younger brother, Josh, to replace him at second base as a courtesy runner. With two down, Alan Taylor delivered a hit that scored the younger Davis from second.
In the last of the seventh, Camp got two quick outs on a strikeout and a line out to shortstop. A walk and an infield hit put two runners on but ‘Houdini’ had enough magic left for a game-ending strikeout. Camp finished with six strikeouts and gave up just four hits.
Norton and Padgett each had a double and two singles in four at-bats. Chase Davis was 2-for-4.