PREP BASEBALL PLAYOFFS: Bearcats sweep Athens to advance to round 3

Cullman’s Cooper Loftin (30) pitched a complete game shutout to lead the Bearcats past Athens 3-0 in game one Friday night. (Nick Griffin/The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. — After defeating Mortimer Jordan in the road in round one, the Bearcats returned home to Bill Shelton Field Friday night to host Athens in round two. Cullman got things started with a 3-0 win in game one and Cooper Loftin tossed a complete game shutout on the mound to lead the way. The Bearcats trailed for most of game two but rallied to score five runs in the top of the fifth to pull ahead and went on to complete the sweep of the Eagles with a 7-3 win in game two.

Cullman 3 – Athens 0 (Game One)

The ‘Cats got on the board early. Elijah Hayes reached first on an error to lead off the bottom of the first, Paxton Ponder drew a walk and Riley Jackson singled on a bunt down the third base line to load the bases. Tucker Cagle then drew another walk to bring in a run and make it a 1-0 game and Hunter Howell stretched the lead to 2-0 with an RBI single later in the inning.

After a scoreless second inning, Zane Watwood led off the bottom to the third with a solo shot to left field to give Cullman a 3-0 advantage. Loftin cruised the rest of the way and ran into a little trouble in the seventh but escaped the jam to secure a 3-0 win in game one.

Loftin tossed all seven innings for Cullman, allowing just three hits and striking out four batters in the win. At the plate, Howell (one RBI) led the way with a pair of hits, Watwood (HR) added another RBI and Cagle drove in a run as well.

Cullman 7 – Athens 3 (Game Two)

The Bearcats stranded a pair of runners in the first inning and left the bases loaded in the second, keeping the game scoreless until a 2-run single gave the Eagles a 2-0 lead in the bottom half of the second inning. The ‘Cats loaded up the bases again in the top of the third but a line drive right at the left fielder kept Cullman off the board once again.

In the top of the fifth, the Bearcats loaded the bases for the third time in the game but this time they capitalized and tied the game at 2 runs apiece with a 2-run double off the bat of Cole Floyd. Hunter Howell scored on a fielder’s choice just two pitches later to put Cullman in front 3-2 and after Elijah Hayes walked to put runners on the corners, Paxton Ponder shot an RBI single to right field to plate two more runs and make it a 5-2 game.

A sacrifice fly from Cooper Loftin brought Garrett Hall home to score and stretched the lead to 6-2 in the top of the sixth but Athens led off the bottom half of the inning with a solo homerun to trim the lead 6-3. The ‘Cats were able to load the bases again in the top of the seventh and an error allowed Ponder to score and make it 7-3 going into the final frame. Cullman collected the final three outs in the bottom of the seventh and punched its ticket back to round three with a sweep over the Eagles.

Cagle nearly went the distance on the mound, tossing 6.1 innings for Cullman and allowing three runs on just two hits. Riley Jackson led the way with three hits in the win, Floyd finished with two hits and two RBIs and Watwood and Howell each added a pair of hits. Ponder (one hit) posted a pair of RBIs as well.

Cullman will stay home for round three to host the Gardendale Rockets.

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