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CHHS drops game 3

SPANISH FORT – Even in defeat, Coach Derek Irons wanted his team to learn an important lesson.

“You never know what the most important thing is going to be. You never know when the most important pitch is coming,” he told the CHHS Trojans in the dugout, just minutes after the team’s disappointing 10-1 loss to Spanish Fort on Saturday in game 3 of the AHSAA Class 5A semifinals.

“And guys, it hurts right now; it sucks right now … but nothing that happened today, nothing that happened yesterday changes how proud I am of everything you have done,” he added.

Among those accomplishments are ending the season with 34 wins, a record that makes this squad the second-winningest in school history, behind only the 2008 squad, Irons said. “And that’s something to hold onto the rest of your life.”

But on Saturday, the rest of their lives seemed a lifetime away for the Trojan players, who saw their hopes for a state championship come to an end on one pitch – a fastball from Harrison Reeves to the Toros’ Zac Fowler in the bottom of the fourth inning that Fowler sent spinning over the left-center fence for a grand slam. The hit gave the Toros a 5-1 lead in what had been a tie ballgame.

“I felt like we had the momentum when we came into this game with the win from game two,” Irons said after the game. “But one swing of the bat sent all that momentum to their side, and we just couldn’t do anything to get it back in our dugout.”

The Trojans had lost game one of the series 6-5 on Friday night before rallying in game two to defeat the Toros 9-5.

But Toros head coach Tommy Walker said he actually felt the momentum switch in the top of the fourth inning, when Troy, down 1-0, started to rally with double by Nathan Barron to the right field wall. The hit gave Barron a 22-game hitting streak and advanced Chance Shaver, who was on base with a walk. Mitch McLeod grounded out to first, but scored Shaver, tying the game and moving Barron to third.

In the heart of the lineup, the Trojans threatened, but Quay Lawson popped out to short-center and Chase Connell, who had his own grand slam on Friday, grounded out to third. “That inning was really the key for us,” Walker said. “When (pitcher) Rocky (McCord) walked the leadoff guy, and Barron got that double, and then we came out of it with Charles Henderson only getting one run … it was huge.”

Fowler’s grand slam in the bottom of the inning further spurred the Toros. “He’s been struggling lately, so it was good to see him get that hit … into the teeth of the wind,” Walker said.

Even with the grand slam, Irons said he was hopeful the Trojans could rally. On Friday, he had praised his team’s ability to “never lay down” and their competitive nature.

But the Trojans continued to struggle at the plate in the fifth inning. Jalin Lawson drew a walk early, and managed to steal both second and third base thanks to quick feet. But McCord proved too much for the other Trojan batters, striking out Michael Fox, Dalton Harris and K.D. Edenfield with a mix of curveballs, fast balls and, in the words of Walker, “a slider that looks like a fastball.”

“(McCord) did a great job on the mound,” Irons said. “Our offensive philosophy centers around pressure and we could never put any pressure on them.”

The bottom of the fifth was all Toros, with runs scored on hits by Troy Brown, Wes Runnels and Nathan Brackham. The Trojans also ran into pitching trouble, loading the bases twice and walking in one run. After five runs, the inning ended 10-1.

“I thought we would come back from a grand slam,” Irons said. “But when they had that fifth inning, that was difficult. That was a big hill to climb.”

In the top of the sixth, McLeod reached on a two-strike, two-out base hit between first and second, but he was thrown out moments later on the attempted steal to second.

Going into the bottom of the sixth, the Trojans rallied defensively, with runners on first and second and two outs, the Trojans faced Fowler at the plate again. His hard hit to center was fielded easily by Edenfield, and the throw to the plate was successful in getting the runner out at home.

In the top of the seventh, the Trojans were swinging hard, but their efforts fell short. Quay Lawson’s deep fly ball to right field was caught for the first out. Connell singled with a solid hit to right field. Pinch runner Tyler Dansby reached second on the steal.

Jalin Lawson struck out swinging and designated hitter Fox ended the inning, and the game, with a grounded back to the pitcher for the final out.

And even though it was a disappointing loss for the Trojans, Irons tried to keep the game and the season in perspective.

“It was tough,” Irons said. “But they won 34 games, and they were one play away from the state finals. And that is something to be proud of.”

Spanish Fort will play Hartselle next Friday in a three-game series in Montgomery.