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By Mark Clark
Lots of things fell into place for the Central High Red Devils baseball team over the last week, especially its pitching. The Red Devils saw their season record improve from 5-3 to 11-4 as they rode an eight-game winning streak until the final game of the annual East Alabama Classic last weekend.
Central defeated Brookwood twice two weeks ago to begin the streak and then added wins over Hardaway and Enterprise before starting last week’s games with a victory over Troup County and then wins over Saraland, Grissom and Hewitt-Trussville in the East Alabama Classic. Tuscaloosa County halted the streak with an 8-6 win over the Red Devils last Saturday afternoon.
“The loss came in our fifth game of the week and our fourth game in three days. We were just trying to get some people some at-bats. We had people out of position and it hurt us some. But, that’s baseball. We still have plenty of work to do. Sometimes losses like that one will humble you and let you see what you still have to do to be successful,” Central coach A.J. Kehoe said of the loss to Tuscaloosa County.
Kehoe was still happy with his team’s performance through the week, especially what he saw from his pitching staff. Tyler Haines tossed a four-hitter and struck out eight against a Saraland team with 11 Division I commits. Tommy Vickers threw a one-hitter, walked one and struck out 13 against Hewitt-Trussville in a 1-0 ballgame. Freshman Bryce Sanders came in to relieve against Grissom, went three innings, walked one, allowed two hits and struck out three as he earned his first varsity win. Reliever Peyton Burton appeared in three of the Red Devils’ five games last week, went 5.2 innings, allowed no hits, struck out three and walked two.
“Our pitching was great this week. Tyler Haines keeps hitter off balance and has three pitches he can throw for strikes at any time. Tommy Vickers has to be the hardest worker we have on the staff. He was unbelievable against Hewitt-Trussville. It was the best I have seen him pitch. He’s probably one of our greatest competitors. He’s fearless. Bryce Sanders did what we asked of him and more. He was supposed to do his job and keep the game close for us. He did that and wound up with his first win. Peyton Burton, what can I say? He’s been lights out all year for us. Mason Davis had to pitch that last game for us. He was making his first start of the year. He hasn’t had much work on the mound. He still pitched a good game except for one inning,” Kehoe said of his pitching staff’s efforts for the week.
Last week’s schedule of games began with Central taking a 7-2 victory over Troup County. The Red Devils put the game away in the bottom of the third inning with a four-run outburst.
D.J. Rias singled to start the third inning. P.J. Ramsey was hit by a pitch. Both runners stole to advance a base. Rias scored on a sacrifice fly by Zion Morris. Ramsey scored when Davis singled. Gage Tillery reached base on an error that left runners at third and second bases. Davis was out at the plate when Jay Kehoe reached on a fielder’s choice. Tillery and Kehoe scored on a single by Braydon Pelkey.
The Red Devils added two more runs in the fourth inning and one in the fifth inning for their seven runs. Troup County scored twice in the fifth inning. Rias was 2-for-3 at the plate to lead Central’s hitters. Morris was the winning pitcher.
Central scored all the runs it would need to defeat Saraland in the first game of the East Alabama Classis in the second inning. Pelkey walked, moved to second on a ground out and scored on a Jeremy Thorn single to give Central a 1-0 lead. The Red Devils scored two more runs in the third inning.
Haines was the winning pitcher, going the full seven innings, throwing only 78 pitches, allowing four hits and striking out eight to improve to 3-1 for the year.
Tillery was 2-for-3 with a triple to lead Central at the plate.
Central scored two runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to break a 3-3 tie with Grissom to win the game 5-3. With two outs, Pelkey singled. Noah Butler reached base on a fielder’s choice that left both runners safe. Thorn doubled to drive in both runners.
Peyton Fowler started on the mound for Central and went two innings. Sanders came in to relieve, pitched three innings and earned the win. Burton closed out the contest for the Red Devils and picked up a save.
Kehoe was 2-for-3 to lead Central at the plate. Davis had a home run – his and his team’s first homer of the season.
Central scored the game’s only run against Hewitt-Trussville in the bottom of the seventh inning to win 1-0 behind a great pitching performance by Vickers. Davis walked to start the seventh, moved to second on a passed ball, took third on a sacrifice bunt by Tillery and scored on a two-out single by Pelkey.
Vickers went seven innings, allowed one hit, walked one and struck out 13 as he improved to 3-1.
Rias and Ramsey were both 2-for-3 to lead Central’s batters.
IN their final game of the week, Central lost 8-6 to Tuscaloosa County. Davis took the pitching loss though he only allowed six hits and four earned runs. He was also Central’s leading hitter with a 2-for-4 performance including a double.
Central was slated to play at home this past Tuesday against Harris County before beginning a string of road games starting with Enterprise on Saturday. On Monday, Central will be at Jacksonville State University to play Hamburg and Hickman. On Tuesday, the Red Devils will be in Oxford for games with Austin and James Clemens.