Yellow Jackets top Spain Park for spot in state championship
by Bran Strickland
May 13, 2012 | 4345 views |  0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HOOVER — Frazier Taylor’s face was drenched in sweat and plastered with a smile.

The Oxford closer was living in the moment — a 4-1 win over Spain Park and a berth to the Class 6A finals — when a reporter forced him to recollect.

About 15 hours earlier, Oxford was four outs away from elimination and the end of 13 seniors’ high school careers. Saturday, the Yellow Jackets were in a place they’d been chasing for four years.

Oxford advances to the Class 6A state finals where it will take on Fairhope, which swept Central-Phenix City on Friday. The first game of the best-of-three series is at 7 p.m. Friday at Montgomery’s Patterson Field.

“There were people in (the dugout) that you could tell thought that might be it,” Taylor said of Friday’s Game 2. “But us seniors, we’ve got experience and we know what it’s like and what it takes to get the job done.”

In the eyes of Oxford coach Wes Brooks, Taylor was the man to get the job done in Saturday’s late innings.

Watching Spain Park’s Colt Freeman, an Alabama signee, unravel in Game 2 on Friday, Brooks admitted being a little quick to head to the bullpen Saturday. Freeman had a no-hitter working through five innings before fourth-ranked Oxford (37-12) tied the game in five at-bats, and won 5-4 the next inning.

While it made Brooks quick on the trigger, Spain Park coach Will Smith refused to question his decision.

“I felt like if we could have just gotten out of the sixth, 4-0 or 4-1, we’d won (the series),” he said. “But, heck no. That’s baseball, and that’s life.”

Zach Lovvorn got the start for Oxford and worked 3 2/3 innings. He had five strikeouts, but four walks and the weather weren’t doing him any favors. With the wind blowing in, it was rendering his changeup — his best pitch in complement to his blistering fastball — less effective, actually speeding it up as it came to the hitters.

“He was working the batters,” Brooks said. “And the best job he did for us was to get Spain Park’s lefthanders out — we didn’t do that last night.

“But Taylor’s just a bulldog. Right then, I need a strike thrower.”

In only his second extended relief appearance of the season, the senior attacked the Jaguars’ lineup just as his coach had hoped. With two men on base, he struck the first two batters he faced to get out of the inning. He continued that in his 3 1/3 innings, allowing just one hit, one walk and picking up five strikeouts, including the game’s last out.

“Him striking those two guys out, that made me look smart,” Brooks joked. “ … I told him, there was nobody in the state I wanted on the mound more than him.”

The ending was the finale to a whirlwind two days for Oxford.

Saturday’s game time wasn’t decided up into the day on Friday. The Yellow Jackets toyed with the idea of staying overnight in Birmingham to keep from going back-and-forth with little time in between. Players said they didn’t get home Friday night until around 11 p.m. — and falling asleep was not an easy task. The Yellow Jackets were back up for batting practice at 7 a.m.

“We were just basically playing off adrenaline,” said Tanner Gardner, who was 2-for-3.

While momentum certainly didn’t hurt, Oxford senior Jackson Stephens said they guarded against the opposite side of that coin.

“We tried to come back to reality pretty soon,” he said.

Oxford scored three runs in the first inning as Smith chalked up his team’s uncharacteristic performance to “carry over” from Friday night. Taylor McCracken singled to start things off, then Mathew Goodson reached on an error. Stephens walked and Joe McGuire continued his hot streak with a single to put the Yellow Jackets on the board.

“We did stuff today we haven’t done all year,” Smith said elaborating to the first-inning miscues of the error and a missed double-play opportunity. “… a lot of that was from the carryover effect, for sure.”

Bran Strickland is the assistant managing editor for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3590 or follow him on Twitter @bran_strickland

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