The Hartselle Tigers punched their return trip ticket to the 6A State Championship series with a sweep of visiting Hazel Green this past Friday. Hartselle defeated the Trojans 11-5 and 5-1 to make their 12th appearance in the State Championship under legendary head coach William Booth. The Tigers are looking for their 9th State Championship under the long-time coach.
The semifinal series atmosphere was memorable, said assistant coach Jake Miles.
“Very few high school kids get to experience something like the atmosphere tonight,” said Miles. “It’s a memory these guys will never forget, which makes Hartselle athletics so special. The support for this individual team has been tremendous, and last night was no different. That’s the way playoff atmospheres are supposed to be.”
People began setting up tents and parking trucks along the outfield fence around noon in anticipation of the semifinal series.
Game 1: Hartselle 11, Hazel Green 5
The Tigers scored runs in each of the first four innings to build an 8-1 lead over the visiting Trojans. Hartselle had help with some of their runs as Eli Tidwell scored on a wild pitch, Greyson Howard scored when a pitch hit Tidwell in the second, and Ben Griffin scored on a throwing error in the fourth.
The Tigers also scored runs with a Peyton Steele home run, a Brodie Morrow double that plated Coleman Mizell, and a Cam Palahach single that brought home Steele and Mizell.
Tidwell was 2-of-4 with three RBIs, a run scored, and a stolen base to lead the Tigers offensively. Mizell was 3-of-3 with three runs scored and a double, while Steele was 2-of-4 with two runs, a home run, and an RBI. Morrow had two hits, an RBI, and a run scored, while Palahach had two hits and two RBIs.
Will Turner pitched his third consecutive, complete game to earn the win. He gave up five runs (two earned runs) on six hits while striking out five in seven innings.
Game 2:Hartselle 5, Hazel Green 1
Hartselle got off to a slow start offensively in the second game, scoring just two runs in the first five innings. However, Elliott Bray dominated the Hazel Green lineup for much of the game in keeping the Tigers in control.
In his third complete postseason game, Bray gave up one run on four hits. He struck out seven batters and became the Tigers’ career strikeout leader after his 6th strikeout that came in the bottom of the sixth. He passed Jay Chittam’s mark of 267 strikeouts.
Bray also contributed to Hartselle’s first run when he led off the second inning with a walk. Walker Hoyle came on to run for Bray and eventually scored on a Cade Miles sacrifice fly in the second inning.
After giving up back-to-back doubles that plated a tying run in the bottom of the third, Bray allowed only two hits the rest of the way.
Morrow led off the fourth with a single and moved to second on a Bray single. He scored to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead when Miles doubled with two outs.
Hoyle and Griffin scored in the top of the sixth to extend the lead to 4-1. Mizell put an exclamation on the scoring with an opposite-field home run in the seventh to make the final score 5-1.
Bray’s seventh strikeout came on the game’s final at-bat, and a celebration erupted on the field.
Mizell finished 2-of-4 with a home run, an RBI and a run scored, while Bray had three hits in four at-bats. Miles had a hit and two RBIs, while Tidwell and JoJo Williamson had an RBI.
Hartselle (37-4) will face the Pelham Panthers (18-18-1) in the 6A State Championship series. The Panthers advanced to the Championship series with wins over Lee-Montgomery, No. 2 Saraland, No. 5 Hueytown, and Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa. Their final three series wins were all three-game series. Game one of the Championship series will be at 7 pm on Thursday at Choccolocco Park in Oxford. Games two and three (if needed) will be at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Jacksonville State University.
On pitching: “Will Turner and Elliott Bray are great competitors,” Miles said. “They are very talented and have been phenomenal this season. They work quickly, pound the strike zone, and force contact. They are very polished and have a high baseball IQ. I am super proud of them as we are our whole team and pitching staff.”
On the offense: “I believe every batter in our lineup had a moment or at-bat last night that helped our team win,” Miles added. “ We are super proud of them because they work really hard on the swings and their batting IQ.”
On the season: “I know last year ended disappointingly, but our goal was never to “get back to the State Finals or revenge,” Miles said. “Our goal was to get better every day and work to make the others around you better as well. We wanted this team to be the best it could be.
On the seniors: “Our seniors and team leaders have been instrumental in keeping us to that standard,” said Miles. “We are happy to be in the finals, but this team is just happy to play together one more time. This team is such a special group of guys that genuinely enjoy each other and enjoy playing together.”