PREP BASEBALL PLAYOFFS: Cullman splits Friday night matchups at Chelsea

The Bearcats split their first two round two matchups at Chelsea Friday night and will return Saturday for a game three with the Hornets. (Nick Griffin/Tribune file photo)

CHELSEA, Ala. – Cullman hit the road Friday night for their second-round matchup and a rematch of the 2019 6A state championship series against Chelsea and the ‘Cats split their first two matchups with the Hornets to force a rubber match in Chelsea Saturday. The Bearcats committed six errors in game one and fell to the Hornets 5-4 but bounced back to take game two 7-1 to force a game three.

Chelsea 5 – Cullman 4 (Game one)

After a leadoff walk from Matt Brock, Brennen Norton singled up the middle and an error by the center fielder allowed Brock to score and gave the Bearcats an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first. The Hornets were aided by three Cullman errors in the bottom half of the first and put four runs on the board to pull ahead 4-1 going into the second inning.

Jake Dueland led off the top of the second with a single up the middle and Zac Edwards drove a ball into right that got past the right fielder and allowed Dueland to score, cutting the lead to 4-2. After another single from Jack Stanford, Paxton Ponder laid a bunt down the third base line to bring Edwards home and make it a 4-3 game going into the bottom of the second.

Kaleb Heatherly drew a walk and Hayden Stancil singled down the right field line to give the ‘Cats a pair of baserunners with one out in the top of the third and Dueland drove in Heatherly with an RBI single to tie the game at 4. Both pitchers and defenses settled in for the next three innings until they arrived at the final frame. Chelsea led off the bottom of the seventh with an infield single and after the next batter laid down a bunt, another error allowed the runner to score the winning run from first and give the Hornets a 5-4 win in game one.

Dueland finished with a pair of hits and an RBI in the loss and Stancil added a pair of hits as well. Norton, Edwards and Stanford also posted hits for the Bearcats. Cullman committed six errors in the loss.

Cullman 7 – Chelsea 1 (Game two)

The Bearcats took another early lead in game two thanks to back to back singles from Matt Brock and Brennen Norton to lead things off and an RBI groundout from Hayden Stancil that made it 1-0 in the bottom of the first. An RBI single from Max Dueland brought in another run one pitch later and Cullman led the way 2-0 going into the second.

The ‘Cats led off the bottom of the second with a double off the bat of Hunter Brooks and after a single by Austin Hurt put runners on the corners, Paxton Ponder drove in Brooks with a sacrifice fly to stretch the lead to 3-0. Cullman continued adding to its lead in the bottom of the third. Stancil and Max Dueland each drew a walk and Jake Dueland laid down a sacrifice bunt to move them to second and third. Both runners were able to score on wild pitches to extend the lead and make it a 5-0 game going into the fourth.

A single, a pair of walks and a wild pitch allowed the Hornets to push a run across and trim the lead to 5-1 in the fourth but a strikeout from Stancil got Cullman out of the inning without any further damage on the scoreboard. The Bearcats were able to get that run back in the bottom half of the inning. Ponder drew a leadoff walk and after moving over to second on a dirt ball, Brock laced an RBI single up the middle to make it a 6-1 game going into the fifth.

A pair of walks gave the Hornets a couple of base runners in the top of the fifth, but Stancil forced the next two batters to fly out and got out of the jam unscathed. Max Dueland was hit by a pitch to lead off the bottom of the fifth and Jake Dueland singled to put a pair of ‘Cats on base. After a strikeout and an infield fly, Ponder drove an RBI single into left field to score Max Dueland and give Cullman a 7-1 advantage heading into the sixth inning.

The Hornets went three up, three down in the top half of the sixth and the Bearcats went to the top of the top seventh with a 6-run lead and three outs away from a win in game two. Austin Hurt was on the mound for the top of the seventh and retired the Hornets in order once again to wrap up a 7-1 win for the ‘Cats in game two.

Stancil earned the win on the mound for Cullman after tossing 4.1 innings, allowing just one run on one hit and striking out six batters. Hurt pitched the final 2.2 innings, allowing no hits and striking out two.

Norton finished 3-for-4 at the plate in the game two and Brock (one RBI) posted a pair of hits as well. Ponder (one hit) finished with two RBIs and Max Dueland collected a hit and an RBI of his own.

Cullman will return to Chelsea for game three Saturday at 1 p.m.

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