Pitcher Tucker Simpson threw a one-hitter, and little brother Trent delivered a home run off the Paterson Field scoreboard to lead the Yellow Jackets to a 2-0 victory over Fairhope.
The Yellow Jackets (38-12), riding No. 2 starter Jackson Stephens (14-0), will play Game 2 of the best-of-3 series against Fairhope’s Ethan Hunt (11-0) at 4 p.m. today at Riverwalk Stadium. The “if” game would start about 7 p.m.
Three years after losing Game 1 at Paterson and being swept by Auburn, Oxford stands one victory away from the school’s first state title in any sport as a 6A school.
“It’s a completely different feeling” than in 2009, said Tucker Simpson, a starter on that 2009 team. “When I first came here three years ago, we made quite a few errors. Myself, I made one at first base that was pretty ugly.
“It’s a completely different feeling, especially going into tomorrow. We can take a few more chances and play a little bit more relaxed.”
Tucker Simpson (9-3) sure looked relaxed Friday, striking out 12 batters.
He came close to his second perfect game of the postseason. He was perfect into the bottom of the fifth, when Fairhope center fielder Chase Domino led off with a single.
“It hit me about the fourth inning, going into the fourth,” said Tucker Simpson, who got Oxford’s postseason run started with a perfect game against Hewitt-Trussville. “Like the previous one, it was something I tried to tune out as much and as long as I could.”
He issued no walks and faced 22 batters, one over the minimum.
“Tonight, Tucker’s curve ball and slider were both on,” Oxford coach Wes Brooks said. “He was getting ahead with his off speed. Just as soon as they started guessing off speed, he busted a fastball in on them.
“I believe he showed them something different with two strikes, whether it be the harder curveball or slider.”
Tucker Simpson was a shock to the system for Fairhope, who faced reliever Frazier Taylor and Taylor McCracken when the Yellow Jackets beat the Pirates 2-1 in 10 innings on March 16.
“He had outstanding command,” said Fairhope coach Stu Fuller, whose team fell to 37-7. “He put us in a hole all night and took a little bit of our aggression away with the bats.
“We had been swinging them pretty well, but, man, he was tearing that outside corner up.”
Tucker Simpson didn’t need much offensive support, but he got all he would need from his little brother.
Trent Simpson, a hero in the semifinal series against Spain Park, blasted a solo home run off the top of the Paterson Field scoreboard in left field to put the Yellow Jackets up 2-0 in the top of the fifth inning.
Trent Simpson sat on a 1-0 fastball high from Fairhope No. 1 starter Toby Thomas (11-1).
“My first at bat, I felt like I put some pretty good swings on it; I was just under it,” Trent Simpson said. “(Assistant) Coach (Cale) Wright was telling me I was going to square it up my next at bat.
“We knew he (Thomas) loves his fast ball. He started me off with a curve ball, so I knew he was going to come back with that fastball and just try to even the count, get back to 1-1, so I figured I’d take a hack at it.”
Trent Simpson came through with a 3-run triple at Spain Park. That hit tied Game 2 after Oxford had lost Game 1.
“That gave me a lot of confidence,” said Trent Simpson, who missed the first month of the season with a lower-back problem. “I had been struggling a little bit, and it was a good boost of confidence.”
Tucker Simpson said he called his brother’s home run Friday.
“I looked at Jared Waits in the dugout and called it,” he said. “I said, ‘I’ve got a feeling he’s going to hit this one.’
“Actually, I called it over the scoreboard.”
Oxford’s other run came in the fourth, when Domino and right fielder Cole Wainwright lost Will Davis’ two-out flyball in the lights in right-center field. Waits, a courtesy runner who came in after Tucker Simpson reached on a fielder’s choice, scored from first base.
It was a bad break for Thomas, who finished with 12 strikeouts and allowed just five hits in a complete-game effort. He was also the starter when Oxford beat Fairhope 2-1 in 10 innings on March 16 in Huntsville.
One more victory over Fairhope, and Oxford will come home as 6A champion.
“It’s huge” to win Game 1, Brooks said. “You look at the history, and I don’t know what the percentages are, but whoever wins Game 1 is in the driver’s seat and normally does not lose the series.
“Now, we can take a little more chances tomorrow knowing we’ve got another game left. Obviously, with our pitching staff, you’ve got to like it.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.