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May 20—MONTGOMERY — "Balling for Booth" has been the catchphrase in Hartselle this spring.
It's about an attitude for William Booth's Hartselle Tigers' baseball teams. It's also about the love and support from the community for the hall of fame coach who has cancer.
Booth's team lived up to the words with its play Wednesday in the Class 6A championship series. After a 10-1 embarrassing loss to Faith Academy on Tuesday night, Hartselle won Game 2, 8-3, to force a Game 3.
The Tigers appeared to come up winners in Game 3 before a controversial umpire's call at third base sent the game into extra innings where Faith Academy came out with a 14-7 win and the state championship.
"I just knew after Tuesday's game that we would come out here and win both games," Booth said. "This team knows how to win. We've played some of the best schools around the South."
Sophomore Coleman Mizell got the day started with a bang for Hartselle. The second batter in the game used a strong wind blowing to left to launch his second home run of the season and drive in senior Eli Snelson.
Faith Academy tied the game at 2-2 in the second, but Hartselle scored three in the fourth and three more in the sixth to put the game out of reach. In the sixth inning, the key hit was Brodie Morrow's bases clearing double.
Hartselle went with its ace in junior Elliott Bray in Game 2. The Auburn commit has been a double-digit strikeout pitcher in the playoffs. He was the winning pitcher again, but this time he had more walks (7) than strikeouts (4).
Senior Colby Widner picked up an amazing save when he struck out the side with the bases loaded in the sixth inning.
The Hartselle win was the first loss of the season for Faith pitcher Parker Carlson, who has signed with Auburn.
That set the stage for Game 3 drama like no one could have imagined. Faith scored three runs in the first off Hartselle starter Caleb Pittman. Hartselle answered with four in the bottom of the third, highlighted by Morrow's three-run home run.
Faith tied it on a home run by Gabe Broadus in the fourth. Then Rams borrowed from Hartselle's playbook to use the squeeze play to score the go ahead run later in the inning. The squeeze play also produced single runs in the fifth and sixth to build a 7-4 lead.
Hartselle bounced back with three in the bottom of the six. Mizell grounded out to bring in one and Morrow singled in two more.
Widner kept Faith Academy off the scoreboard in the top of the seventh. The Tigers then appeared to have won the game on JoJo Williamson's sacrifice fly to score Peyton Steele.
It was all downhill in a hurry for Hartselle after that. Faith scored seven in the top of the eighth for the final 14-7 score.
"This is going to make us work that much harder to get back here next year," Morrow said. "Everybody knows we were the state champions. We should be the ones taking the blue map home. It's not right, but we'll be back next year and win it again."
The chances of Hartselle getting back to the state championship series next year have to be rated pretty high. The team has a wealth of talent returning.
Starting pitchers Bray, Pittman, William Turner and JT Blackwood were juniors this season. Morrow, who finished Wednesday with eight RBIs, will be back for his senior season, too. Steele at third and Williamson at second were freshmen this season. Mizell will be a junior in the outfield next season.
The holes to fill start at catcher where Glavine Segars caught 99 percent of the innings. The transfer from West Morgan solidified a position that had been a problem for several seasons at Hartselle.
"If you don't have a catcher, you don't have a team," Booth said.
According to Booth, Segars was just the second catcher he ever allowed to call pitches.
Also gone are centerfielder Drew Cartee and leftfielder Snelson. The ground they covered was where fly balls went to die.
Other seniors on the team were Widner, who finished with six wins, along with pitcher Carter Borden, first baseman Graham Ellis and catcher Stran Sawyer.
"The experience of playing baseball for Hartselle is one I will never forget," Segars said. "I made some great friendships that will last a lifetime. I'm proud to say I'm a Tiger."
— email@example.com or 256-340-2395. Twitter @DD_DavidElwell.