Had the comment come from anyone else, you might’ve dismissed it as typical post-victory coach-speak, especially after a pair of big victories.
But given all that Piedmont’s coach has gone though, his words following the Bulldogs’ two games to none sweep of Plainview in the Class 3A state baseball playoffs Friday afternoon resonated like a gong.
“A year ago today, I was fighting tonsil cancer. Didn’t know if I was going to be here,” he said. “A year later, here we are playing for the state championship. I just want to say that God has been very good to me and this team. I never am nervous as long as we got another swing.”
A few swings in particular catapulted the Bulldogs to their first appearance in the baseball state championship series in school history.
With his team down a run in the bottom of the fourth, Piedmont senior Landon Pruitt singled on a liner to right field for a single, which scored a pair of runners to tie the game at three to give his team the lead for good. Matt Strott added an RBI single in the fifth to give his team a 5-3 win and a one game to none advantage in the series heading into the nightcap of the doubleheader.
In Game 2, Matt Strott came up big again with a sacrifice to right field in the second to knot the contest at four in the top of the sixth. His brother broke the game open in the seventh with a two-run single that gave put the Bulldogs ahead 7-4, the final score.
Unranked Piedmont, which improved to 29-9-1 on the season with the wins, will face No. 1 Trinity Presbyterian Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Paterson Field in Montgomery. Trinity swept Montevallo, winning 6-2 and 2-0 to advance.
Game 2 is slated for a 4 p.m. start Thursday at Riverwalk Stadium, home of the Montgomery Biscuits, a minor league affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. Game 3, if necessary, is set for Thursday at 7 p.m.
“Nobody thinks of Piedmont as a baseball team,” Chris Strott said. “But this year, at the beginning of the year, coaches came together when we had our losing streak and said, ‘Guys just stick out through it and we’ll be playing for the state championship’. And we bought into it.”
Joel Ray earned the win in Game 1, striking out five while giving up one earned run on four hits in a complete game victory to improve his record to 13-2 on the season.
“To be honest with you, I was nervous at first. I wasn’t knowing what to do,” Ray said. “But once I got past that first inning, it was pretty easy sailing after that.”
Pruitt led the way for Piedmont at the plate, going 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs. Trevor Ford was 2-for-4 with a home run.
The Bulldogs hopped out to an early 3-0 lead in Game 2.
Playing as the visiting team on the scoreboard, they batted first.
Chris Strott’s RBI single and scored Pruitt and Collin Bradley’s RBI single brought in two more to put them ahead. However, Plainview’s Jon Hicks went deep to left for a three-run shot to tie the game in the bottom half of the inning. Hicks would come up huge again in the bottom of the fifth when he knocked in a runner on a base hit to put his team ahead 4-3.
Chris Strott turned a single into a triple on a Plainview error to start the sixth, setting up Matt Strott’s sacrifice.
“Just put it in play on the right side,” Matt Strott said when asked of his thoughts as he approached the plate.
Cade Bradley went all seven innings to earn the win, striking out one and giving up four earned runs to earn the complete game victory.
Chris Strott was 3-for-4. Landon Pruitt and Matt Strott were both 2-for-4 for the Bulldogs. Hicks was 2-for-3 to lead Plainview.
“We talked about this four years ago when these seniors were ninth-graders and these juniors were eighth-graders,” Blanchard said. “We talked about winning a state championship.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.