The No. 9 Bulldogs fell 5-4 to unranked Trinity to open the best two-of-three series in the AHSAA Class 3A state baseball finals at Paterson Field, committing multiple miscues to help the Wildcats build an early lead.
“I told them before the start of the game, ‘Whoever makes the least mistakes and errors in a championship game, that’s whose going to win the game,”’ Piedmont coach James Blanchard said. “That’s just a fact.”
The Bulldogs (29-10-1), down one game to none, will have a chance to even the series today at 4 p.m. in Game 2 at Riverwalk Stadium. If necessary, Game 3 will start at 7 p.m.
The battery of blunders began early for the Bulldogs.
Starting pitcher Joel Ray walked the first three batters he faced but managed to get out of the inning unscathed when he got Trinity’s William Stabler to hit into a double play and Will Holland to fly out to center.
The Bulldogs lost a one-run lead in the bottom of the second built on a sacrifice fly from Ray that scored Trevor Ford in the top of the first. That’s when Trinity plated a pair of runners aided by two Piedmont errors, one fielding and one throwing, and could’ve done even more damage leaving three runners on base.
“It rattled me a little bit because I ain’t never had trouble throwing strikes for real,” Ray said of his early struggles. “I usually throw too many strikes. About the third inning I got back into it and got into my good groove.”
Ray went all six inning for the Bulldogs, giving up four earned runs on nine hits. He walked five and struck out just as many while tallying 113 pitches.
Trinity (28-13), which played as the home team, tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the third. First centerfielder Chas Mitchell knocked in a pinch runner on an RBI single to right. Then, first baseman Brock Stevens brought in a runner on a high pop up that a Piedmont outfielder lost in the stadium’s lights.
But Piedmont would rally late, beginning in the top of the sixth when Ray reached on an error by Trinity third baseman Hunter Chambliss. Chris Strott, the next batter up, doubled to move Ray to third. After Collin Bradley popped out, Matthew Strott singled to bring in Ray to make the score 4-3 in favor of the Wildcats with one out.
That forced Trinity coach Ken Whittle to yank starter Tatum Dean and come with Stevens, the Wildcats’ closer.
Dean gave up three runs, one earned, on six hits in 5 1/3 innings of work.
“It was a great opportunity again. We felt like we had to go to Brock a littler earlier than we had last time (in the semifinals against Montevallo),” Trinity coach Ken Whittle said. “
Trinity’s Trace Johnson hit a high-arching ball over a shallow right field for a double that scored Chambliss to give the Wildcats a 5-3 lead.
Trevor Ford hit a standup double on hard-hit ball to left with one out in the seventh.
Then, after Landon Pruitt popped out, Ray pulled a 3-2 pitch to right field and raced to a triple that brought in Ford to make the score 5-4.
“It was just a pitch I love,” Ray said. “Middle of the way. I just hit it where it was pitched.”
The comeback effort came to a halt when Chris Strott popped out to right field to end the game.
“The shoe’s on the other foot now,” Blanchard said. “We’re used to playing and winning that first game. I challenged my guys after the game to get their heads up. We’ve got two more ball games.”
Trevor Ford led Piedmont at the plate, going 2-for-4. Stevens and Chambliss were 2-for-3 for Trinity.
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.