Baseball: Into the Playoffs: Central travels to Theodore for first round

By Mark Clark

The senior baseball players for Central High defeated LaGrange, Ga., High 6-5 last week to give them a memory that all former Red Devils do not have – a victory in their final regular season game at Darnell-Nelson Field. The victory came after the 10 seniors shared a pre-game ceremony honoring them and their parents. 

While it was a victory, it was not one that will come often in the Class 7A playoffs which the Red Devils will enter this week at Theodore High – a best of three series. The Red Devils made too many errors and failed to show consistency on the mound aside from starters Evan Baber, Dalton Wilder and Gage Dollar.

“There is a big difference between Baber, Wilder and Dollar and the rest of the pitchers. You cannot expect to win a three-game series in the playoffs without a couple of other pitchers ready to step up. We are still looking for those guys,” Central Coach Bobby Howard said after his team used five pitchers to beat LaGrange.

Another area of concern for Howard is the way his team is playing defense. The Red Devils, 21-15, committed six errors in the contest against the Grangers.

“We just are not catching the ball very well. It’s not for a lack of work. My coaches tell me we have taken more ground balls than any team I’ve ever coached. We are not supposed to be making these types of errors this late in the season,” Howard said.

So, in order for Central to have success in the playoffs, the Red Devils must play better defense and find some pitching help quickly. They do not have much time to do that as the series with Theodore begins tomorrow night in Theodore with a doubleheader. A third game, if necessary, will be played on Saturday. The winner advances to the second round and the loser will pack up its equipment for the season.

In the Red Devils’ first game last week, Central fell behind to LaGrange 3-0 in the top of the first inning. The Granger lead-off batter was hit by a pitch. The second batter walked. The third batter reached base on an error that scored two runs. Another hit batter, a wild pitch, and a pair of ground outs pushed in the third run.

Central began an early comeback in the bottom of the second inning. Wilder singled to start the frame. Travis Moore walked to put runners on second and first bases. Dollar had a sacrifice bunt that advanced both runners. Zach Elias then hit a double in the gap between left and center fields to drive in both runs. Tanner Belcher followed with a double that scored Elias. Belcher ran home to give Central the lead at 4-3 on a single by Dayton Edmonds.

LaGrange scored a pair of runs in the top of the third to regain the lead at 5-4. Two hit batters, two errors and a single accounted for the production of the two runs.

In the top of the fourth inning, with one out, Central once again began a comeback. Belcher was hit by a pitch and Baber was walked before Slade Gorman singled. Belcher raced home on the single and Baber went to third base. Edmonds had a sacrifice fly to right to score Baber with the go ahead run.

Over the next three innings, Howard turned to his trio of starting pitchers to hold on to the victory. Each of the three went a single inning and faced the minimum number of batters. The trio did not allow a hit and struck out three. Dollar picked up the mound victory and Wilder earned the save.

At the plate, no Red Devil had more than one hit. Belcher and Elias had doubles while Gorman, Edmonds, Wilder and Moore each had singles.

Against Hoover in a game played at Auburn University this past Monday, the Red Devils lost to the Bucs 5-3 late in the contest. Hoover took a 3-0 lead in the top of the third inning and Central matched the number in the bottom of the inning. Hoover scored its winning runs in the top of the fifth inning. Chandler took the pitching loss. He was one of six pitchers Central used for the game. 

Central had seven hits to Hoover’s five. Baber was the only Red Devil with multiple hits. He was 2-for-3 with one RBI. Alex Baker, Brant Knox, Jay Kehoe, Belcher and Gorman all had one hit each.