AHSAA 2016 State Baseball Championship Series: Cats come up just shy, fall to Hillcrest 1-0

Noah Galilee

MONTGOMERY – Will Morrison took the hill for Cullman in the pivotal game two, trying to pitch his team to a win and force a game three. He pitched a gem but two costly errors in the sixth inning allowed Hillcrest to plate the game’s only run as the Patriots defeated Cullman 1-0 to become the 2016 6A State Baseball Champions.

Hillcrest looked to get on the board early when Tyler Turner drew a two out walk and two pitches later, stole second to move into scoring position. However, he would get no further as Morrison struck out Blake Robbins to end the inning and give Cullman’s bats a chance to go to work.

Owen Lovell was the first Cats base runner with a hard hit single up the middle. He swiped second on the fourth pitch to Noah Fondren, who would reach via a walk just a pitch later. Unfortunately, Cullman could not capitalize as Jacob Heatherly grounded out 4-3 to end the inning.

Hillcrest had their first real scoring threat in the top of the third. Sage Smelley and Cole Frederick drew back-to-back walks. Wheeler Eastman tried to throw out Smelley when he strayed too far from the second base bag but when the throw came down, Smelley took off. Kolby Robinson, eager to throw him out, had trouble getting the ball out of his glove, allowing Smelley to slide head first into third without a play to put runners at the corners with two outs. Morrison didn’t seem bothered by anything that had transpired as he struck out Turner for his fifth strikeout of the game, this one an inning ender.

Morrison continued to mow down hitter after Patriot hitter until the sixth. With two outs Turner hit a blooper that fell in shallow right field. As he led from first, Eastman attempted to pick him off but the ball sailed down the right field line, allowing Turner to go from first to third. Robbins would follow with a sharply hit ball to short. Robinson would fire to first but the throw would be wide of the bag, forcing Trent Price to try a swipe tag that did not work and allowed Turner to cross the plate and put Hillcrest up 1-0 heading to the bottom of the sixth.

The Cats looked to claw their way back in the bottom of the sixth when Fondren led off the inning with a single through the Hillcrest shortstop, but the Cats stranded him at first and were down to their final three outs to try and avoid the championship sweep.

Cullman was able to pitch out of a one out, bases-loaded jam with the help of a 6-4-3 double play, but they could not scratch across a run in the bottom of the seventh, dropping the second and final game in the championship series to Hillcrest 1-0.

Morrison would finish the game with six strikeouts over six and a third innings of work. He gave up four hits and one run while walking three.

Fondren went 2-2 from the plate. Lovell, Heatherly and Trent Price each added a single.

Cole Frederick of Hillcrest was named MVP.

We here at The Cullman Tribune would like to extend our congratulations to the Cullman Bearcats for a terrific season and a special thanks to Knight-Free Insurance for sponsoring this year’s coverage of the AHSAA 2016 6A State Baseball Championship.

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