The reigning Class 3A runner-up got a strong do-over pitching performance from Cade Bradley and clutch three-run home run from Payton Young and beat Cleveland 7-3 in Game 3 at Piedmont on Monday.
The Bulldogs (23-9) advanced to a best-of-three second-round series at home against Glencoe, which eliminated White Plains 8-0 in their Game 3 Monday.
Piedmont’s Game 3 victory came on the heels of a 26-3 eruption in Saturday’s second game, which immediately followed a 13-4 loss to Cleveland in the opener.
“We’ve got to be more humble,” Young said. “I think we came into it a little bit cocky. That’ll change, though.”
The change started with Bradley, Piedmont’s top starting pitcher.
He allowed no earned runs in seven innings Monday, with two strikeouts and — most importantly — just three walks.
“I felt more like myself today,” he said. “I felt like I had more control over my pitches and everything, and my curveball was working good.”
Why was Bradley pitching Game 3? He walked the first five batters in Game 1, and Piedmont coach James Blanchard pulled him, leaving Bradley eligible to pitch again Monday.
“I think he got a little rattled Game 1,” Blanchard said. “When you think you’re throwing strikes and they’re not calling it, you get a little rattled.”
Blanchard said it wasn’t a hard decision to put Bradley back on the mound in the decisive game.
“You’re coaching 16- and 17-year-old kids, and they’re kids, and they’re going to do that, but you’ve just got to keep them up,” Blanchard said.
“I’m proud of the way Cade came back today. He threw strikes.”
Piedmont also got timely big hits, like Young’s two-out, three-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning. It came after Cleveland (16-13) closed to within 4-3 on Kaleb Melvin’s bases-clearing double in the top of the inning.
Young said he was waiting for his pitch.
“It was an inside fastball, and I was just zoned in on it,” he said. “I was looking for it, because I like high-pressure situations really.”
Piedmont came up swinging in the bottom of the sixth, but Bradley and Matt Strott got out on hard-hit, first-pitch swings. Bradley grounded out to short, and Strott lined out to center field.
Cass McCord followed with a single, and Collin Bradley walked ahead of Young’s blast over the left-field fence off Cleveland starter Ben Aaron.
“He was an eighth-grader, and we knew if we got him rattled a little bit, he would mess up,” Young said.
Young’s home run left Cleveland coach Roy Michael Johnson with regrets. He had a chance to intentionally walk Young, a proven power hitter.
“I should have put him on, but I second-guessed myself,” Johnson said.
The home run gave Cade Bradley more cushion as he took the mound in the seventh inning, and he pitched to four batters in a scoreless frame.
Young’s home run also came at a time when momentum had seemed to switch sides.
Piedmont loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth inning, but Caleb Adams and pinch hitter Taylor Hayes hit shallow bloops to the outfield. One resulted in a popout with no runners moving, and McCord was forced out at the plate on a throw by Cleveland left fielder Kyle Blackwood.
Tyler Lusk’s two-out single provided what turned out to be the winning run for a 4-0 Piedmont lead, but Aaron induced Bayley Blanchard’s groundout to end the threat.
The Cleveland sixth saw the Panthers load the bases with two outs, thanks partly to a walk and error. They closed within 4-3 on Melvin’s double, but Cade Bradley struck out Rowell to end the threat.
That set the stage for Young, who went 2-for-3 with four RBIs. Collin Bradley was 3-3 with two RBIs and two runs, and McCord went 3-4 to power Piedmont into the second round.
The Bulldogs will play host to Glencoe in a Friday doubleheader, with a Saturday “if” game. The two teams split two games this season, each winning at home.
“We learned that it can go either way,” Cade Bradley said. “You’ve just got to keep your head picked up and play your hardest and not give anybody any slack.”
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.