Alex Johnson’s outstretched arm was tagged by Autauga Academy’s catcher inches before it crossed the plate in the seventh inning of Edgewood Academy’s second game against the Generals Tuesday.
After a full season of baseball, such plays determined who would take home the AISA Class AA state championship and who finished as runner up, and like Johnson, the Wildcats came up inches short in each of the first two games of their best-of-three championship series.
Edgewood lost 4-2 and 5-4 in the two contests, respectively.
“We had a great team,” Edgewood head coach Justin Jones said. “We had six seniors that we challenged at the beginning of the year to lead the program. They’ve fought hard since seventh grade and played varsity since seventh grade, and they're the true explanation and reason of what Edgewood is.”
Game one unfolded with trading of blows.
Will Traywick walked to lead off the game and came around to score on a wild pitch for Autauga, Mitchell Boyd singled and later scored on a passed ball for Edgewood in the bottom of the first inning.
The Generals picked up a second run in the third via a bases-loaded walk, the Wildcats responded in the bottom of the inning with a sacrifice fly to even the score at 2-2.
It was a calamitous pair of runs scored in the fifth by Autauga that Edgewood was unable to answer back.
With runners on second and third with one out, an Edgewood fielder overthrew catcher Tyler Bullard on a play at the plate, allowing both baserunners to come home.
Freshman Jack Balda threw two shutout innings in relief of Johnson, who started, but the Wildcats managed just two baserunners across their last three innings on offense.
“Our boys played hard,” Jones said. “You’ve gotta tip your hat to Autauga. They played well and they gave it everything they had.”
Edgewood started game two in a furious backpedal.
The Wildcats fell behind 1-0 in the first inning, then had their starting pitcher ejected just 1.1 innings into his outing after an altercation with an opposing player.
A routine fly ball burnt center fielder Dawson Owens with two outs in the second frame and gave Autauga two additional runs.
But Owens accounted for his mistake by sparking Edgewood’s fifth-inning retaliation.
The senior blasted a ball over the head of Autauga left fielder John Gabehart that one-hopped the wall for a double then scored on a ground ball from Johnson.
Two batters later, Edgewood third baseman JT Brazell delivered a two-out two-run single to tie the contest 3-3.
“Dawson’s been a leader for us all year,” Jones said. “It’s big for him to respond that way. We’ve been working on our mental toughness most of the year, and that shows his right there. For the mishaps in the outfield, and then for him to turn around and get us started offensively.”
Walker Hall took over pitching duties and shut out the Generals’ offense in innings three through five, but Autauga broke through with two runs in the bottom of the sixth on a Gabehart single.
Drez Crawford doubled and later scored to cut the lead to 5-4 in the seventh, and Edgewood had runners on second and third with no outs.
Following a strikeout, Edgewood's first baseman Brooks Dobson hit a ground ball to Traywick, who fired home to retire Johnson, the game’s potential tying run. A pop-out ended the Wildcats’ hopes.
Edgewood closed its 2021 season as state runner-ups. Johnson, pitcher Connor Bailey, Crawford, Boyd, Dobson and Owens will all depart from the team as seniors.
“Just hard-nosed kids, and hearts of gold. I’m gonna miss the hell out of them,” Jones said in closing about the team’s seniors. “They laid a firm foundation for us to grow on next year.”