“We had our opportunities. We just didn’t cash in on them.”
For the second time in three games, Mars Hill Bible School rallied in the late innings against Piedmont and won the Class 3A best-of-three quarterfinal series two games to one. The Panthers converted three hits and an error into two runs in the sixth inning. Back-to-back two-out doubles in the seventh produced an insurance run, and Mars Hill won Tuesday’s rain-delayed third game 3-1.
“Like I told my kids, I think (Mars Hill Bible) thought they were going to come in here and just beat us two games and go to the house,” Blanchard said. “They’ve got some great pitchers. You’ve got one going to Alabama, one to Mississippi State and one to UNA. What I’m proud of is that did not put the fear of God in our kids at all. That’s what I love about these kids. They play hard, they believe in themselves. They believed we were going to win this. … They got a lot of respect today from Mars Hill.”
Piedmont scored first on a two-out RBI single to right field by pitcher Dillon Terry in the bottom half of the fourth inning. Terry’s hit scored Payton Young from second base after Young doubled to centerfield with one out. The Bulldogs sent seven men to the plate in the inning but did not score again and left the bases loaded.
In the fifth, a leadoff single to center by Cade Bradley seemed to have Piedmont in business again against Mars Hill left-hander Thomas Burrows, already signed by Alabama for next year. Matt Strott’s sacrifice bunt moved Bradley to second base. Bradley reached third on a ground ball to the right side but Mars Hill intentionally walked Young and a ground ball to short ended the threat.
Bradley and Strott opened the Piedmont first with an infield single and a sacrifice bunt but Bradley was stranded at second. Caleb Adams’ one-out single in the second also failed to produce a run.
Terry, who won Friday’s second game with a 1-0 pitching gem, was Blanchard’s choice for Game 3.
“Dillon’s really had success his last three outings, but we’re just so much better defensively when Cade’s at shortstop,” Blanchard said. “When Cade isn’t on the mound, he’s really concentrating on his hitting and we need Cade to hit. When Cade hits we all hit.”
For five innings, it looked as if Terry might have another 1-0 victory. Young threw an aggressive Mars Hill runner out at the plate for the second out of the second inning, and Terry ended the threat with a strikeout. In the third, Burrows hit the ball sharply but right at Adams at second base and lined into a double play.
A single with one out, an outfield error with two down and a triple that kept carrying into the gap in right center put the Panthers up 2-1 in the sixth.
Piedmont ended 26-11 after losing the Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5 hitters in the batting order from last year’s 3A runner-up team.
“Nobody really counted us in this year. I did because I know how these seniors are,” Blanchard said. “It was an extremely good season. You don’t want it to end like this because the way they’ve built this program, the players before and these players now, we play for a state championship every year. That’s our goal.”