By Mark Clark
Things got a little more interesting for the Central High coaching staff – and a little more fun – as the Red Devils showed the way they play baseball is not a one-man game. The team clipped off five consecutive wins last week to improve its record to 9-4 as they head for the busiest two weeks of the season.
Central will participate in the annual East Alabama Classic beginning tonight in Auburn against Sparkman High at 6 p.m. EDT. Then the team will face Theodore High on Friday at 6 p.m. EDT and Alma Bryant and Spain Park on Saturday in games that begin at 11 a.m. EDT and 4 p.m. EDT. The Friday and Saturday games will be played at Darnell-Nelson Field.
When the Red Devils complete the East Alabama Classic, they will prepare to head to Oxford, Ala., for a Spring round-robin event with Central playing five games in three days before returning home on March 24 to face Huntsville High.
“The last week has been a lot of fun to watch as a coaching staff to see our kids beginning to understand what we expect them to do. Whenever you coach a bunch of high school kids, you always have to go through that hard-headed stubborn stage before things begin to click. They are beginning to take better approaches at the plate and hitting more line drives instead of pop-ups and high fly balls,” Central coach A.J. Kehoe said of his squad after the five wins last week.
Central began last week with a 6-1 win over Hardaway High. They followed that win with a doubleheader sweep of Marbury High, 8-4 and 11-1. They finished the week with another doubleheader sweep on the road against Pelham High, 3-1 and 6-5.
“The biggest thing we saw last week was how the kids began to understand that you cannot expect the same guys to do it for you every game. This is a team sport. Everyone has to do his part. Our hitters were doing things better at the plate. Our role players did what they are expected to do when they get into games. Our pitchers were doing what we asked them to do. I have to say that top to bottom in our lineup, we are doing some good things. I was especially proud of the two wins at Pelham against a good baseball team. That was a tough day when you see we met at seven o’clock to check in at our facility and to make a two and a half hour trip to Pelham. We played a doubleheader and had to work hard for both wins,” Kehoe said.
In Game 1 of the doubleheader at Pelham, the Red Devils took control in the fifth inning. With the score at 1-1, Central scored what would be the winning run when Andrew Valero walked, went to second on a wild pitch, took third on a ground out and scored on another wild pitch. They added an insurance run in the seventh inning to win 3-1.
Zach Johnson was the winning pitcher for the Red Devils. Johnson went five innings, allowed two hits and struck out four. Tucker Melton went the final two innings in relief and gave up a hit while striking out two.
Brayden Pelkey was the leader at the plate for Central, going 2-for-4. Gage Tillery was 1-for-2, Riley Rutledge was 1-for-3 and Jay Kehoe was 1-for-4. Valero was 0-for-1, but scored two runs.
Central won Game 2 of the doubleheader at Pelham with a run in the top of the ninth inning. Rutledge struck out to start the inning, but reached first when the Pelham catcher dropped the ball. Valero singled to move Rutledge to second. Slade Gorman’s ground out moved Rutledge to third. Tillery drove Rutledge home with a sacrifice fly out to left.
Jay Kehoe, who pitched the final three innings for Central, struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth to secure the victory. It was Kehoe’s first outing as a pitcher for Central in his career. He went three innings, struck out five and allowed only two hits. He was the sixth pitcher of the game for the Red Devils. Pelkey started the game and was relieved by Zach Bozeman, Tyler Horsley, Peyton Burton and Kehoe.
At the plate, Alex Baker and Pelkey were each 2-for-4. Mason Davis, Rutledge and Valero were each 2-for-5. Kehoe was 2-for-6. Gorman and Tillery were each 1-for-4. Davis, Kehoe and Rutledge each had a double for Central.
The highlight of the week at the plate came in the second game of the doubleheader with Marbury when Gorman hit for the cycle – a single, a double, a triple and a home run. Gorman had a triple to start the game and also a home run in the first inning as the Red Devils scored nine runs. He added a single in the second inning and a double in the fourth inning to complete the cycle.
In addition to Gorman’s 4-for-4 effort, Kehoe was 2-for-2 and Melton was 2-for-3 with a double and one RBI.
Tyler Haines was the winning pitcher for Central. He tossed a three-hitter.
In Game 1 against Marbury, the game went to the bottom of the fifth inning tied at 3-3. That is when the Red Devils struck for five runs to put the game out of reach. Jeremy Thorn doubled to start the inning, went to third on a passed ball and scored when Valero reached base on an error. Valero, Baker, Gorman and Kehoe each scored a run in the inning.
Bozeman was the winning pitcher against Marbury in relief of starter Tommy Vickers. Melton tossed the final two innings of the game.
Thorn was 2-for-3 and Pelkey was 1-for-1 at the plate for Central.
Central started the week with its 6-1 win at Hardaway. Johnson was the winning pitcher for the Red Devils. He went four innings, allowed four hits, struck out three and allowed one run.
Valero was 2-fpr-3 with two doubles. PJ Ramsey went 2-for-4 with a double and Tillery was 1-for-2 with a double.
Central scored four runs in the second inning to take the lead and held on to beat the Hawks. Ramsey doubled and scored on a ground out. Thorn doubled and scored on a double by Valero. Valero scored when Baker singled. Baker, who moved to third on a double by Pelkey, scored when Gorman reached base on an error.