FLORENCE — The games in Friday’s Class 1A semifinal doubleheader mirrored one another, but with different outcomes.
Shoals Christian broke open a 14-2 mercy-rule win in the opener with a nine-run inning while out-hitting visiting Cedar Bluff by 11.
The Tigers (22-14) turned it around in Game 2, using a six-run inning to pull away in a 9-3 win and out-hitting the Flame by 10.
The split forces a third game today at 11 a.m. to decide which team will advance to next week’s state championship series against the St. Luke’s-Brantley winner. It also puts three-time defending champion Shoals Christian (26-13), which hadn’t trailed this postseason, much less dropped a game, in unfamiliar territory.
“It doesn’t really feel any different, though,” Shoals Christian senior Will Bishop said. “Coach preps us every day. Every game is no different. We’re used to any kind of pressure. We’ve gone through about anything you could the last three years. It’s just one more game we’ve got to win.”
Shoals Christian took a 2-all tie into the bottom of the fourth inning in the second game, when Tigers 9-hole hitter Ricky Pendley ripped a leadoff homer to left field, putting the Flame behind for the first time in the playoffs.
It remained a one-run game until Cedar Bluff broke it open with a six-run sixth inning.
Pendley (3-for-3) sparked it with a double to left, though a relay from Dale Thomas to Tanner Traglia to Jonathan Brock caught a runner at the plate on the play. But it started a streak of five straight hits for the Tigers, and Curtis Abernathy (3-for-4, three RBIs) punctuated the inning with a two-run homer to left-center field for a 9-2 Cedar Bluff lead.
“I knew they had a good team, and I knew they weren’t just going to go away into the night,” Shoals Christian coach Jason Anderson said. “They had some good at-bats. That’s what good teams do. They had their back to the wall and they responded. And their guy threw it well.”
Christian Shipe took the loss, striking out three and walking one in all six innings. Cedar Bluff out-hit Shoals Christian 13-3.
Levi Mintz got the win, striking out seven and walking five in a complete game.
The Flame scored twice in the third. Walker Reeves drew a leadoff walk, moved to second on an errant pick off throw and scored on Josh Vardaman’s single to center.
Mintz held Shoals Christian hitless the next three innings, until Reeves singled to lead off the seventh and eventually scored on Tanner Bozeman’s sacrifice fly to center.
“That’s what you want out of a senior, out of a leader,” Cedar Bluff coach Taylor Talbot said of Mintz. “I’m proud our guys overall, but him especially. To go out there and be able to do that in a must-win game against a great hitting team at their place, it’s pretty special. We have something to build on. We hope it will trickle over.”
Shoals Christian scored the first 14 runs of the opener, including nine in the bottom of the fourth, invoking the mercy rule in five innings. The first 10 batters reached base in the fourth inning and the first eight scored.
Shipe drove in two runs on two hits in the inning and finished 3-for-4 with three RBIs. Mitchell Boyd, Cooper Melvin and Bishop added RBIs while the Flame pounded out eight hits and took advantage of three Tigers errors in the frame.
Vardaman finished 2-for-3, as did Bishop, who drove in four runs, including a three-run double during a four-run second inning.
In all, Shoals Christian out-hit Cedar Bluff 14-3.
Bishop got the win, striking out eight and walking three in four one-hit innings. That leaves him with three innings left to pitch today.
“Hopefully, I’ll be able to come out and throw three more,” Bishop said, “but we have about five or six good pitchers we can use.”
Jacob White gave up two runs on two hits and a walk in an inning of relief.
Cedar Bluff, which has lost to Shoals Christian in the playoffs three of the previous five seasons, will choose between Abernathy and lefty C.J. Gilreath to start today’s rubber match. Shoals Christian likely will choose from Boyd, Traglia and Bishop
“No question, it was big,” Anderson said of being able to save some innings for Bishop with the abbreviated first game. “Hopefully, it will work out in our favor.
“We’ll have to think about (a starter), but we have confidence in all our guys. We’ve got some options, which is good.”
Bryan App can be reached at 256-740-5730 or bryan.app@TimesDaily.com. Follow @bappster on Twitter.