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Party crashers:

10-17 Charles Henderson ends Tigers’ season in first round of 5A playoffs

By KEVIN PEARCEY

Sports Editor

DEMOPOLIS – Brett Pierce thought it was foul.

For Demopolis starting pitcher Cole Basinger too bad it wasn’t.

Pierce took Basinger’s best and delivered his biggest hit of the season, a three-run shot over the left field fence, as Charles Henderson downed the Tigers 4-1 in the first round of the Class 5A State Playoffs.

"Oh, Lordy," said Steve Garrett, the Trojans’ fourth-year head coach, obviously pleased. "That was a big hit and the third this year out of our lead-off batter."

And Pierce, who had struck out and reached on error in his two previous at-bats against the Tigers’ left hander, wasn’t exactly sure where the ball was going to end up.

"I thought it was starting to float a little bit," he said. "The first thing I did was made sure I kept my head on the ball. That’s been a big problem for me this year. I just knew I had got the good part of the bat on it. It hit right in the sweet spot. You couldn’t even feel it. It just felt good."

The hit came with two outs and both Blake Phelps and pinch runner Jeremy Jones on first and second. Pitcher Pete Van Horn had took base on a walk, following a Daniel Porter ground out, and Phelps had a single to set up Pierce at the top of the order.

Van Horn pitched six innings on the mound for the Trojans, giving up one unearned run on a wild pitch, and working his curve ball to perfection. The sophomore struck out 10 Demopolis batters before giving way to to Justin Sims early in the bottom of the seventh. Sims forced a fly out from Devon Goodwin, put one runner on with a walk and then struck out Jonathan Sommers. Matt Chambless grounded a ball to Phelps at shortstop and the throw ended the game.

"I just felt like Pete was getting tired," said Garrett about the move. Van Horn had walked the first batter he faced that inning. "He was pressing a little bit. But if you have a lefty like Sims that can throw pretty good, you don’t mind going with him."

Basinger’s troubles started in the third as Phelps led-off with a single and two straight bunts by Pierce and Tyson Pugh forced errors from the Demopolis infield, loading the bases. Clint Pugh hit a short hopper to third, forcing Phelps out at home, but Sims scored one runner with a ground ball hit to the Tigers’ shortstop, giving the Trojans a 1-0 lead.

Following Pierce’s homer, Basinger went into left field with a hit where Porter was there for the first out in the second half of the fourth. David Doty, playing first base, grabbed an out in foul territory off the bat of Reed Nixon before Dustin Goodwin doubled to move into scoring position for the Tigers. A single pushed Goodwin to third and he would come home when a pitch by Van Horn sailed over the head of catcher Chase Clower.

The backstop at Tiger Field was a particular concern for Garrett. It stretched some 20 feet, making passed balls and wild pitches something the Trojans just couldn’t have if they were to come away with win.

"You have to give Clower a lot of credit," Garrett said. "He was back there blocking some stuff up where they just couldn’t steal."

Van Horn allowed four hits in the game, two in the Tigers’ one-run fourth. But he protected the Trojans’ lead in the fifth and sixth innings, retiring the side on each occasion, four times on strike outs.

Phelps led the Trojans offensively, going 3-for-3. Sims had two hits. Tyson Pugh, Clint Pugh, Porter and Pierce also added hits for CHHS.

Now.

Talk about spoiling the party.

The Tigers came into the game as Area 7 champions and totalled 20 wins this season. In contrast, CHHS had lost almost that many. The win on Wednesday was just the Trojans tenth of the season to go along with 17 losses.

"I’ve told these guys that I’ve had confidence in them since the beginning of the season," Garrett said. "I don’t care if we’re starting nine sophomores. I haven’t gone into one single game this year expecting to lose. We can play, but they haven’t had the confidence in themselves. You can’t make them have it, because it’s all mental. They feel like sophomores so they play like sophomores. But I hope this turns us into a hot team."

Charles Henderson faces one more round of single-elimination on Saturday at noon when it hosts Monroe County at Hogan’s Hole. The final three rounds of state are in a best-of-three format.

The Trojans haven’t played a home game since April 5.

"What was it? Like the beginning of the month?" said Garrett. "We’ve been on the road so long that maybe that helped us tonight. It’s going to feel good to get back home. But the ‘Hole’ needs some TLC, man. I told our guys that there’s a dead animal down there and it stinks to high-Heaven. The grass hasn’t been cut in awhile too."