BOKCHITO — After going through a 19-3 regular-season campaign this spring, postseason success seemed pretty eminent for the Stratford Bulldogs baseball team. Wednesday afternoon at the Class A District Tournament, it was anything but.
After a late rally gave the Bulldogs an 8-6 lead in the seventh inning, a two-out, walk-off, three-run home run by Elmore City-Pernell’s Colby Kile gave the Badgers a 9-8 come-from-behind victory in Game 1 of the day.
By losing, the ’Dogs had to turn around and then play the tournament hosts, the Rock Creek Mustangs. Thanks to a six-run fifth inning, which was possibly aided by a check-swing call which favored the Mustangs, Rock Creek ended the season for Stratford with a 9-2 win.
“I’m proud of them,” said Stratford coach Mark Qualls, whose team ends the season at 19-5. “They battled, and they worked hard. It was a tough district, but when you play below par, you can’t expect to get through it. And we didn’t play our best baseball. Sometimes, things just don’t go your way — and they definitely didn’t go our way.”
Elmore City-Pernell 9, Stratford 8
The Bulldogs, who trailed from the end of the opening inning until the sixth inning, finally regained the lead in the sixth on a two-run home run by Tyler Mills, his sixth homer of the season, and an RBI single by Dalen Qualls to give Stratford a 7-5 lead.
After Elmore City-Pernell got a run back in its half of the sixth inning to make it 7-6, Chris Macy’s sacrifice fly in the seventh gave the ’Dogs an insurance run to make it 8-6, with the Badgers (11-9 after ending the day losing 6-1 to the Mustangs in Game 3) having only three outs left in the bottom of the inning.
Mills, now relief pitching for starter Tyler Gaines, started off the inning by hitting leadoff batter Ethan Kile, who went to second on a groundout by Jake Phillips and went to third on a wild pitch with two outs. After a walk to Cody Ballard, Colby Kile — the Badger cleanup hitter — then sent Mills’ first offering over the left-field fence for a three-run home run to pin the devastating one-run loss on the Bulldogs.
“I think (the walk-off homer) took the wind out of our sails,” Mark Qualls said. “You say you have to bounce back, and play the next one. But kids are kids, and it’s hard to re-generate that energy after being one pitch away from winning the game.”
Stratford had the early lead on a two-RBI single by Gaines for a 2-0 lead in the first inning.
The Badgers responded with a four-run first inning of their own as an RBI grounder by Colby Kile, a Stratford error and a two-RBI single by Shane Henry gave Elmore City-Pernell a 4-2 lead after the opening frame.
The Bulldogs cut the deficit to 4-3 in the second inning on a two-out, RBI single by Nick Cosby, only to see the Badgers get that run back in the third inning on another Stratford error to make it 5-3 after three innings.
Stratford got back to within a run in the fifth inning on an RBI groundout by Gaines to make it 5-4.
For the game, Henry was 2-for-3 with two runs batted in, while Colby Kile was 1-for-4 with the game-winning homer, four RBIs and two runs scored for EC-P. Jonathan Harrel (3-2) got the win in relief for the Badgers as he struck out four batters in three innings of work.
In defeat, Dalen Qualls was 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI, Mills was 2-for-3 with two RBIs and two runs scored and Cosby was 2-for-3 with two runs scored for Stratford. Mills (3-2) suffered the loss in relief for the ’Dogs. Startford starter Gaines threw five innings and fanned six batters in getting the no-decision.
Rock Creek 9
A bases-loaded walk to Tanner Halcomb scored David Dill to make it 1-0 in favor of Rock Creek (17-12), ranked 10th in Class A, after an inning.
Stratford tied the game in the second inning on an error by Rock Creek center fielder Bradley Robinson as he misplayed a single by Macy, allowing Tommy Lawson to score.
The Bulldogs took what would end up being their final lead of the day on an RBI single by Gaines to make it 2-1.
In the bottom of the inning, the Mustangs got a leadoff homer by Zack Goolsby, his fourth of the season, and a two-out, RBI single by Justin Burns to make it 3-2 after three innings.
After a scoreless fourth inning, the all important fifth inning arrived. With the bases loaded, Dalen Qualls, Stratford’s starting pitcher, hit Les Shumake with a pitch to force home Goolsby to make it 4-2.
The following batter, Burns had a 1-0 count, and looked as if he failed to check his swing on a Qualls delivery. The home plate umpire said Burns did not swing. The veteran Stratford coach asked for an appeal to infield umpire Jacob Hamilton — who a couple of innings earlier warned Qualls about voicing his concerns on a couple earlier appeals which went in Rock Creek’s favor. After Qualls voiced his concern about the check-swing at-bat being called a ball, Hamilton ejected Qualls.
“In 21 years of coaching baseball, that’s the first time I’ve been ejected,” the veteran Stratford coach said. “I thought it was very unwarranted. I said my piece, and asked my questions. The guy clearly took a full swing. I asked for help, and the umpire out in the field wanted to show how big he was and tossed me. That always makes you feel bad when that happens, but I didn’t feel like I was in the wrong.”
As Burns continued his at-bat, two pitches later, he hit a two-RBI single to make it 6-2. Before the dust settled in the inning, a wild pitch and RBI singles by Kodi From and Goolsby added three more runs to give Rock Creek a 9-2 advantage going into the sixth inning.
While the critical call may have played a factor into the outcome, a bigger factor was the inability of the Bulldogs to produce with runners on base. Stratford left nine men on base, and had another picked off first base.
“We got people on base and in scoring position, then we couldn’t get them home,” Mark Qualls said. “I think we tried to re-create that energy (after the heart-breaking loss to EC-P). They tried to keep their heads up, but you could just tell it was just zapped from them. Dalen threw OK, but he wasn’t real sharp. And we didn’t make plays.”
For the game, Goolsby was 3-for-3 with two RBIs and two runs scored, while Burns was 2-for-4 for the Mustangs. From (6-2) got the win, while Halcomb got his first save of the season as he struck out five batters in 2.2 innings.
In defeat, Lawson was 2-for-2 with a run scored, Macy was 2-for-3 and Cosby was 2-for-4 for the ’Dogs. Dalen Qualls (8-2) suffered the loss, despite recording eight strikeouts in five innings of work.