But the No. 4 Yellow Jackets nearly blew it, dropping Game 2 of its best two-out-of-three series against Fairhope 5-3 after being one out away from sweeping. They trailed by four in through two innings before storming back to a 12-7 win to capture the school’s first ever state title in the sport.
What wound up being a celebratory final farewell for the Yellow Jackets’ class of 13 seniors was nearly a colossal failure.
“They say time heals all,” senior outfielder Mathew Goodson said. “But that would’ve took a lot of time.”
Goodson’s single to left tied it up at 6 in the sixth inning of Game 3, and Tucker Simpson’s RBI via a bases-loaded walk was the go-ahead run as Oxford put up six all total to storm back and take control for good.
“Life’s all about second chances, and it’s about what you do when you get that second chance to make the best of it,” Oxford coach Wes Brooks said. “We got a second chance tonight.
“I think they learned a life lesson tonight.”
After shutting out the Pirates 2-0 Friday behind a near perfect game from ace pitcher Tucker Simpson, the Yellow Jackets (39-13) looked poised to sweep Saturday at Riverwalk Stadium.
They put up three unanswered runs in the bottom of the first against previously unbeaten starter Ethan Hunt. And with the way Oxford starter Jackson Stephens was mowing batters down, it seemed as if they might wrap up the series before sunset.
Fairhope (38-7) got on the board on an RBI single from second baseman Hunter Ellenburg in the top of the sixth to shrink his team’s deficit to two at 3-1.
However, when reliever recorded back-to-back strikeouts with the bases loaded in the seventh, the final seemed a mere formality.
The Yellow Jackets would still be able to pile up atop one another, pose for pictures with index fingers pointed to the sky as is customary with champions.
It’d just be several drama-filled hours later.
With two outs, Fairhope’s Toby Thomas stroked a rolling ground ball toward left field that scored two runs to tie the game at 3. The Pirates added another on a wild pitch which allowed Sam Sundbeck to score from third. A base hit to left by Chase Domino brought in Thomas to make the score 5-3.
After walking Trent Simpson, Hunt retired Tanner Gardner, Frazier Taylor and Taylor McCracken in succession to complete the comeback and force the winner-take-all third game.
“I want to say that was the lowest of the lows,” Simpson said, describing the feeling losing Game 2. “Once they came back and tied it up it seemed like all the air was completely out of our balloon.”
Simpson and Joe McGuire were both 1-for-3 with an RBI in Game 2. Thomas was 1-for-4 with two RBIs to lead Fairhope. Hunt went all seven innings, allowing three runs, one earned, on five hits in the win. Stephens gave up four runs, none earned, and struck out nine in six innings in the loss.
But after being he hard-luck loser, Stephens did his best to send Oxford home as champions. He started the final game in emphatic fashion with a solo home run to give Oxford a 1-0 lead.
Fairhope responded with a RBI single from Domino in the bottom of the first. Then, the Pirates scored four more in the second, highlighted by a two-RBI double to left from Domino. Oxford chipped away at the deficit scoring two in the third and two more in the fifth to pull to within one, 6-5, before exploding in the sixth.
Brooks used a combination of starter Zach Lovvorn, Will McGuire and Taylor atop the mound to keep the Pirates guessing. Fairhope starter Quint Fields went two innings before the Pirates brought on Corey Childress.
The Yellow Jackets abused him for much of their comeback. Drew Braswell and Beecher Faust also spent time on the mound but were largely ineffective.
“We had six guys that could go out there on the mound and throw fastballs and throw off-speed for strikes,” Brooks said. “I think they had three. I think that was the biggest difference.”
Taylor got the win, striking out four and giving up one run in three innings. Childress took the loss for Fairhope.
Stephens led the Yellow Jackets at the plate, going 2-for-3 with three RBIs. Will Davis went 1-for-2 and drove in three runs. Goodson was 2-for-5 with an RBI and Simpson was 2-for-3 while driving in a run. Thomas led Fairhope, going 2-for-4 with a pair of RBIs.
Just last week, Oxford was four outs away from being eliminated before rallying to defeat Spain Park on the road in Game 2 and later in Game 3 to advance.
Their resiliency then helped fuel their resolve Saturday as they captured Oxford’s first state title in any sport in Class 6A.
“You can’t ask for anything more than this,” Stephen said. “This is fun. This is baseball.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.