Cullman takes care of Hartselle in playoff series sweep


Two consecutive years of being eliminated in the second round of the Alabama High School 5A baseball playoffs is now a memory for the Cullman Bearcats.


Their long time rival, the Hartselle Tigers, had pulled off two series wins in 2012 & 2013, winning last year's series enroute to taking the 5A state title in mid May.


On Friday night at Bill Shelton Field, the No. 2 ranked Bearcats put it together with a 10-5 victory in the opener then followed that game by a 10-0 shutout as Auston Neal allowed the No. 5 ranked Tigers one hit in going the distance with two walks and 11 strikeouts.


Cullman is now 38-10 and will move on to the quarterfinal round. The Bearcats will play the winner of the Walker-Mortimer Jordan series. It will be decided with game three on Saturday afternoon in Jefferson County.


If Walker wins the series, they will host Cullman next Friday. If the winner is Mortimer Jordan, the Blue Devils will visit Bill Shelton Field.


After giving up two runs in the first on a 2-run homer to designated hitter Brett Blackwood, Cullman answered with two runs in the bottom of the first in game one. 


A throwing error off a ground ball hit to third by Keaton Dean sent in Carter Bowen and Owen Lovell to tie the score after a complete inning.


Cole Collins doubled home Auston Neal to put the Bearcats ahead in the second at 3-2. That was followed by a two-run double from Christian Martinez and the home team had the momentum with a 6-2 advantage.


Hartselle closed to 6-4 in the third that ended the afternoon for left-hander Jesse Scott. He was replaced by Branch Hill who allowed one run on third hits with three strikeouts in four and two-thirds as a reliever.


Lovell belted a home run in the fourth that extended the Cullman advantage to 8-4. Lovell delivered a run-scoring double in the sixth and scored the final run on a single by Dean.


Lovell was three for four in the opener with two runs batted in and three runs scored.


In the nightcap, Lance Cleveland broke a scoreless with a double in the third that sent Carter Bowen home and the Bearcats grabbed a 1-0 lead.


Extra base hits proved to be valuable for Cullman in the fourth. A bases-loaded double by Cleveland was followed by an RBI triple from Lovell and the lead grew to 6-0.


After walking a couple of Tigers in the second, Neal didn't allow Hartselle to get on base for the rest of the night. The senior retired the final 18 batters he faced, striking out the side in the seventh.


Cleveland went four out of five in the second game, hitting three doubles and driving in four runs. Orvis Cuello had a pinch-hit two-run single in the sixth inning while Cole Collins walked three times and scored twice.


The Bearcats finish the season with Hartselle not losing to the Tigers in six decisions. It was the third straight year Cullman had won the regular season area title against the Tigers.


But in 2012 & 2013, Hartselle put Cullman out of contention in the second round. Cullman turned the tables on the Tigers this time around with a new champion in Class 5A to be crowned in three weeks in Montgomery. 


Cullman is looking to get back to the championship series for the first time since 2011 and try to win the state title for the first time since 2008.