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Let’s do it again: CHHS forces game 3

SPANISH FORT – Coach Derek Irons was succinct: “I’m just glad to be playing another day.”

His Charles Henderson Trojans had just defeated the Spanish Fort Toros 9-5 in what one observer called a “slobberknocker of a ballgame” after falling 6-5 to close out the first two games of the three-game AHSAA Class 5A semifinal championship series. The teams will meet at 1 p.m. today for the final, and deciding, game.

Pragmatics aside, the second-year coach was proud of his team on Friday.

“It would’ve been human nature for them to lay down,” he said after the first game. “But I’m so proud that they showed their competitive nature and fought back against adversity.”

The Trojans got off to a slow start against Spanish Fort, struggling at the plate against pitcher Chris Beasley.

In the fourth inning, Troy got on the board with a double to left field by Mitch Mcleod that scored Chance Shaver.

The lead didn’t last long, as the Toros quickly answered with a home run by rightfield Wes Runnels that scored a runner.

With the Toros up 2-1, the Trojans experienced their first tough inning of the series. Jake Brackham took first after being hit by a pitch, followed by a single by Beasley.

With runners on first and second, third baseman Zac Fowler hit to centerfield and drove in a run.

A wild pitch and a fly ball later, and the score was 4-1 Toros.

Troy couldn’t capitalize on their fifth-inning at bats, but the Toros took advantage of their opportunities, scoring two runs on one hit and two errors during the bottom of the fifth.

The sixth inning, though, would be all Trojan.

Leadoff batter K.D. Edenfield reached base on a pop fly to short center and took advantage of the situation to make a double of what some batters would have left as a single. Nathan Barron reached on a walk, a rare occurrence for Beasley, and Mitch McLeod followed with a single to leftfield.

With bases loaded and one out, Quay Lawson popped out to centerfield, where the Toros battled the sun to make the catch.

Chase Connell came to the plate with bases loaded and found his pitch, hitting a grand slam over the centerfield fence.

“Yeah, I knew it,” Connell said after the game.

So did his dad, Carol. “The guy next to me said, ‘where’s it going?’ I said, ‘it’s going out of centerfield.’”

The two-out grandslam put the Trojans within striking distance of the Toros, at 6-5. A hard hit by Jalin Lawson down the third baseline followed, earning him a double. But at the end of the inning, he remained stranded on second.

Blake Hutchinson took the mound for the Trojans in the seventh inning, coming in for Mitch McLeod who pitched six innings earning seven strikeouts and giving up only two walks, one of which was intentional.

Hutchinson struck out the first two batters and the third grounded out on a hit to the pitcher.

The Trojans tried to rally in the seventh, with a walk by Edenfield, who managed to steal second. With two outs and Nathan Barron up to bat, a pop fly to short center was caught by the shortstop, giving the Toros the first win.

Irons said he took the break between games to remind his players that only once this year have they lost back-to-back games, and even that was questionable.

“It was over spring break. We played on Tuesday, the next day was a rainout, and we played again the next Tuesday. So it was sort of back-to-back, kind of not,” he said.

And he said his players responded.

“I think they focused better. We didn’t swing at as many bad pitches.”

After giving up one run in the first inning on a sacrifice fly by Runnels, the Trojans came to the plate swinging. Edenfield drew a walk and scores when Barron gets a line-drive double to right field. Smart base running and a Toro error advance Barron to third.

McLeod got on base after being hit by a pitch, bringing Quay Lawson up to the plate. He sent the first pitch over the fence, bringing in both runners and putting the Trojans up 4-1.

Connell provided back-to-back homeruns, and the Trojans were up 5-1.

The Toros started the sixth inning with two walks, bringing leadoff hitter Cole Jarman to the plate with no outs. Hutchinson replaced Barron on the mound, and a sacrifice out sent runners to second and third. The Trojans opted to give Patrick McGavin the intentional walk and with two outs, runners on first and second, Connell’s throw from home to third on the steal got the much-needed third out for the Trojans.

With a new pitcher, Justin Key, on the mound for the Toros, Fox led off the sixth inning for Troy with a single to right center.

Shaver reached base after being hit by a ball. Barron reached first on a fielder’s choice to the pitcher, but Fox was thrown out at third.

McLeod answered with a double to the centerfield fence, scoring two RBIs and putting the Trojans up 8-5. A hit by Lawson followed, scoring McLeod and giving Troy the 9-5 lead.

The Toros last at bat saw a single by Troy Brown and a hit by Rocky McCord before Hutchinson struck out DH Dalton Owens for the last out of the game.

Afterwards, Toros coach Tommy Walker reflected on the changing momentum between the games.

“We jumped out; they came back. They jumped out; we came back. It was just two good ball teams, two good games.

And Irons echoed the sentiment

“At this level it’s about who plays better, who executes better in any game,” Irons said. “Both teams are talented. Both teams have good players. It will be a good game.”

And he believes his Trojans will be ready.

“There’s a lot of pressure, a lot of anxiety … but this is what you play for as a high school player: to play against a team like this, on the road, in a championship series.

Editor’s note: We will provide real-time coverage of the third game via Twitter at @troymessenger.