By Mark Clark
As area play approaches in an area where all three teams rank in the Top 10 of the Alabama Sports Writers Association Class 7A poll, Central coach AJ Kehoe has a message for his team to remember.
“There is a very thin line between making the playoffs and being left at home,” Kehoe said after his team defeated a pride of Prattville High Lions who were looking to replace the Red Devils in the next ASWA poll.
The Red Devils, 19-9, must have listened to their coach as they went through four games over the weekend without suffering a loss. Central swept Prattville in a doubleheader 5-4 and 4-2. They then defeated Northview High of Dothan in another doubleheader 13-6 and 10-6.
Perhaps the most rewarding event of the weekend was a complete game by Zach Johnson in the second game of the sweep of Prattville.
“We are trying to get our pitchers ready for area play. Tommy Vickers didn’t do anything wrong against Prattville for me to take him out, but I was thinking about saving our arms for the area games. I’ve used a lot of guys in relief to win some games to get them experience. I knew I would have to throw them into the fire at some point. I felt that time was right now. When you look back over things, I think you will see we had some good efforts from our bullpen,” Kehoe said.
Johnson went all seven innings on the mound for Central against the Lions in the second game of last Friday evening’s doubleheader. He scattered five hits, allowed two runs of which neither was earned, struck out six and did not walk a batter.
The first win over Prattville took a little more effort by the team as they went into the bottom of the seventh inning trailing 4-2 and rallied for a 5-4 victory. With the bases loaded and one out, Tucker Melton had a sacrifice bunt to score Mason Davis with the winning run.
“I’m telling you right now, it takes a great effort to do what these kids just did. We are going to have to win games like that one to have a chance of making the playoffs. We are going to have to have a lot of arms ready to go to the mound at any time. Andrew Valero got a big walk to start that last inning. Jay Kehoe got a big double for us. Mason Davis made an adjustment at the plate to get his hit. Tucker Melton is probably our best bunter. He had the confidence to get the job done there at the end. They were not expecting him to bunt,” Kehoe said.
In the first game of the doubleheader with Prattville, Central gave up a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning as the Lions scored three runs. Then Central had one last chance to overcome the deficit in the seventh inning. Valero walked to start the inning and took second on a passed ball. He scored when Jay Kehoe ripped a double to right. Davis singled to drive home Kehoe to tie the game at 4-4. Noah Butler reached base on an error which sent Davis to third. Jeremy Thorn was intentionally walked to load the bases with one out. Prattville pulled in its infield, but Melton’s bunt left them flat-footed and Davis trotted in for the winning run.
Peyton Burton was the winning pitcher in relief of starter Tommy Vickers. Vickers left after four innings and allowed three hits and one run while striking out four. Tyler Haines also saw relief time for Central before Burton closed out the contest.
Davis was 2-for-4 with one RBI and scored the winning run. Jay Kehoe and Thorn were both 1-for-2. Kehoe had a double and one RBI. Thorn had one RBI. Melton was 0-for-0 with two RBI while walking twice and then using a sacrifice bunt to score the winning run.
In the second game, Prattville again enjoyed a lead it could not hold. Leading 2-0, Prattville saw its lead erased by a four-run inning for the Red Devils. Alex Baker singled to start the inning. With one out, Valero singled and moved Baker to third. Gage Tillery singled to load the bases. Baker stole home for the first run and Valero scored on an error on the play to tie the game. Davis doubled to drive home Tillery. Davis moved to third on the play and scored on a passed ball.
Baker and Valero were each 1-for-2. Davis was 1-for-3 with a double and one RBI. Tillery was also 1-for-3.
Davis got the pitching victory for Central in its 13-6 victory over Northview in the first game of the Saturday doubleheader. He went 5.2 innings, allowed nine hits and six runs. Burton finished the game. He did not give up a hit or a run.
Baker was 2-for-2 with a home run and three RBI. Butler was 2-for-5 with a home run and four RBI. Valero was 2-for-4 with one RBI. Davis was 3-for-5 at the plate.
Central scored seven runs in the first inning to put the game in hand. Davis singled and Tillery reached base on an error to start the frame. With one out, Butler singled to drive in Davis. Thorn had a sacrifice fly to score Tillery. Melton reached base on an error. Baker homered to drive in three runs. Riley Rutledge reached base on another error by Northview. Valero singled to drive in Rutledge. Tillery singled to drive home Valero.
With Northview within a run at 7-6 in the seventh inning, Butler homered to drive in Davis and Kehoe who had reached base with singles to put the game further out of reach.
Melton was the winning pitcher in Game 2 of the doubleheader in Dothan. He went 3.2 innings, gave up five hits, six runs of which only one was earned and struck out nine. He got relief help from Zach Bozeman, Tyler Horsley and Haines. The trip combined to allow four hits, no runs and struck out eight, giving Central 17 strikeouts for the contest.
Tillery was 3-for-4 with two RBI to lead Central at the plate. Baker was 2-for-5 with one RBI. Jordan Mitchell and Melton were both 1-for-2 and both had one RBI. Butler was 1-for-3 with one RBI.
Central took a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Tillery singled, Kehoe was hit by a pitch and Butler walked to load the bases. Tillery scored when Davis was walked. Kehoe scored on a sacrifice fly by Brayden Pelkey.
In the fourth inning, Central scored seven runs. Baker singled and Mitchell walked to start things off for Central. Valero hit a grounder and was safe at first when Northview attempted to get Baker out at home. Baker scored on the play. Mitchell and Valero both scored on a single by Tillery. Tillery went to third on a defensive interference call. With one out, Butler singled to score Tillery. Melton followed with a single. With two outs, PJ Ramsey reached base on an error that scored Butler. Vickers, running for Melton, went to third. Baker singled to drive home Vickers. Ramsey scored when Mitchell singled.
Central’s final run came in the fifth inning. Tillery reached base on an error, Kehoe walked and Butler walked to load the bases. With two outs, Vickers was hit by a pitch that forced home Tillery.
This week and next week are the biggest weeks of the season for Central as they play all six of their area games. The first two area games count in the standings. The third game is used to break ties. Central was slated to play a single game at Auburn High last night. Today, the Red Devils are at home to face Auburn in a doubleheader. The Tigers are ranked No. 1 in the ASWA Class 7A poll. Next week, Central will be at home on Wednesday to face No. 7 ranked Smiths Station. Next Thursday, they complete area play with a doubleheader at Smiths Station. Central will close out the 2018 regular season with three home games against Shaw High, Harris County High and Northside High.