After Piedmont’s 7-4 victory in Game 2 of its Class 3A state semifinals series against Plainview this past Friday night, students swung open a gate near the home dugout and stormed the field.
Players embraced classmates, friends and family members near right field. Bulldogs coach James Blanchard was doused with the contents of a water cooler and children threw ice in the air as if it were confetti.
Ten minutes later it was all brought to a halt as athletics director Steve Smith huddled players and parents together to discuss travel plans for their state championship series against Trinity, which begins today at 7 p.m. at Paterson Field in Montgomery.
“I wanted to let them have a little fun because that’s big right there to be able to win and get to go to a state championship,” Blanchard said. “But our main focus has been winning the state championship.”
Game 2 of the AHSAA Class 3A state finals between the Bulldogs (29-9-1) and the top-ranked Wildcats (27-13) is set for a 4 p.m. start on Thursday at Riverwalk Stadium, home of the Montgomery Biscuits, a minor league affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. Game 3, if necessary, will follow at 7 p.m.
Trinity advanced to the state finals by downing Slocumb, LAMP, Bayside Academy and Montevallo.
With a quicker than usual turnaround between games, Piedmont didn’t waste any time getting back to business. Blanchard called a 10 a.m. practice Saturday and another on Sunday to make up for lost time.
Blanchard said Saturday’s practice went “a whole lot better” than he thought it would. He didn’t sleep much Friday night and figured his guys hadn’t either.
“Saturday was Monday. Sunday was Tuesday and today (Monday) is Wednesday, and (Tuesday) will be Thursday for us,” Blanchard said, laying out his team’s approach toward preparing for a mid-week series.
“We didn’t change anything we do.”
What Piedmont has done is reach the state championship series in baseball for the first time in school history. Should they win it, they add another state title to go along with the football and wrestling titles they won in 2009. Those were also firsts for the Bulldogs.
“It’d be huge,” senior Landon Pruitt said. “We’ve worked so hard these past couple seasons bringing the program up. It’d be great to go out as a senior with a ring.”
They’ll be facing a bunch in Trinity that’s as formidable atop the mound as they are.
Cade Bradley, who started Game 2 for the Bulldogs against Plainview, is 9-2 on the season with 68 strikeouts. He has given up 22 earned runs on 51 hits for a solid 2.20 ERA. Joel Ray, last week’s Game 1 winner, is 13-2 with 101 strikeouts. He’s allowed 22 earned runs on 68 hits.
“We’ve just got to hit our spots and hope the defense makes plays behind us,” Bradley said. “We can’t have a whole bunch of errors.”
Trinity hasn’t allowed more than five runs any of its nine playoff games.
Meanwhile, Piedmont has scored 54 runs in its eight playoff contests. That’s an average of 6.75 runs per game.
Bradley’s batting .415 for the Bulldogs with a team-high 27 RBIs and six home runs. Trevor Ford is hitting .333 with three homers and 25 RBIs.
Pruitt is batting .379 with 24 runs driven in and one homer. Ray is hitting .327. He’s driven in 24 runs and has three home runs.
“We’ve made the playoffs three out of the four years since I started,” Blanchard said.
“I guess you could kind of say that it’s uncharted territory but I expected these guys to be where they’re at right now.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.