The way a team faces adversity is the difference between success and failure. On Tuesday night, the Calhoun Yellow Jackets faced adversity and showed what kind of toughness and determination they have by overcoming it for an important win in their Region 7-AAAAA opener.
After the Jackets and Blessed Trinity went scoreless through the first four innings due to strong efforts by their respective starting pitchers and stellar defense, the Titans pushed across the game’s first run in the fifth as Max Puckett struck out on a ball in the dirt but proceeded to reach first on a throwing error after the home plate umpire said the Calhoun catcher failed to tag the runner following the strikeout. On the throw, Blessed Trinity’s Jonathan Franchi came around from second base to give his team a 1-0 lead.
The Jackets didn’t hang their heads, however, after the quick turn of events. Instead, they continued to battle and put together a two-out rally in the sixth to score four runs and hold on for a huge 4-1 victory on their home field to open 7-AAAAA play.
The sixth-inning surge started with a ground ball in the infield by Calhoun’s Cohen Chadwick that resulted in a throwing error to allow him to reach. Jackets’ leadoff-man Dante Morton then stepped to the plate and roped a double to the right-center field gap to bring in Chadwick and tie the game at 1-1.
Calhoun (5-2, 1-0 in 7-AAAAA) then displayed their patience at the plate, drawing four straight walks following a Blessed Trinity pitching change as two more runs came across the plate in the form of Morton and Parker Lester. Barrett Saunders added the final insurance run on a two-out RBI-single to give Calhoun starter Hagan Banks all the support he needed.
Banks took the mound in the top of the seventh with the lead and, after giving up a leadoff single in the inning, proceeded to shut the door on Blessed Trinity with three straight strikeouts to close out his complete-game effort for the win. Banks, and Alabama commit, finished the game by going all seven innings and allowing one unearned run on five hits while striking out 13 batters.
“We knew going into this one it was going to be a battle…with a team as good as Blessed Trinity, we knew we were going to have a fight on our hands,” said Calhoun head coach Chip Henderson, who was ejected in the fifth arguing the non-tag call after the strikeout that allowed the Titans to take the 1-0 lead. “It got a little crazy in the fifth on that play where we thought we were out of the inning, but I was proud of our guys for maintaining their composure and continuing to battle. It started with a little dribbler with two outs (by Cohen), and then Dante stepped in there and did what he’s been doing for three years for us getting a clutch hit. We were patient at the plate after that and were able to get the lead for Hagan, who just got stronger as the game went on and closed it out for us. He kept them at bay all game and gave us a chance, and the offense gave him the support he needed there in the sixth.”
The Calhoun ace Banks matched a strong starting effort by Blessed Trinity’s DJ Radtke, who took the tough-luck loss after going 5 2-3 innings and allowing two runs (both unearned) on one hit while striking out 10. Evan O’Neill and Parker Spring worked the final third of the sixth for the Titans (6-5, 0-1 in 7-AAAAA) after coming on in relief of Radtke and combined to give up two runs on one hit and four walks.
Henderson said Banks gave the Jackets exactly what he expected of the senior in the crucial region opener.
“(Hagan) is a bulldog on the mound,” said Henderson. “You know he’s going to battle and give you everything he’s got. He’s going to come right at you, throw strikes and make a lineup work for whatever they get. He’s a senior that we know we can turn to in a big game like tonight. Once he got that lead, we definitely wanted him out there for the seventh. He gave up that hit to start the inning but finished it with three straight strikeouts. That shows you what kind of pitcher he is to close it out with some of his best pitches of the night.”
Morton and Barrett Saunders had the Jackets’ only hits in the victory, and John Andrew Cash and Braden Saunders each drew a walk and had an RBI as well. Lester and Andon Lewis each had a walk and a run scored.
Offensively for Blessed Trinity, Franchi finished 2-for-2 with two hits, a walk and a run scored. Radtke, Ben Hamacher and Hayden Grier added a hit apiece for the Titans.
The two teams will square off again on Friday in doubleheader starting at 5 p.m. at Blessed Trinity as they close out the 7-AAAAA series.
“That’s a huge win for us, but we can’t let our guard down,” said Henderson. “We’ve got to work to get better and be ready for them again on Friday. That’s a great ball team over there. We know they won’t go away, and they will be ready to try to even things up on Friday. Hopefully we can carry this confidence from tonight into Friday and get another win or two to open up region play.”