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Benjamin Russell's Wilson Hays, left, follows through on a run to first base while attempting to beat out the throw to Hillcrest's Walt Bailey during Friday's Game 3.

From the opening pitch of Friday’s Class 6A quarterfinal, it looked like Benjamin Russell’s baseball team was going to the ride the momentum of the walk-off win from a night prior. 

The Wildcats got in good position early in the decisive Game 3, putting a pair of runners on with no outs in the top of the first. But they failed to deliver any runs, and from there, things went south.

BRHS was held scoreless in the first inning before giving up five unearned runs to Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa in the home half of the frame, and while the Patriots kept the pedal to the metal all game, the Wildcats seemed to lose steam. It resulted in a 10-0 victory in six innings for Hillcrest.

“We had a chance in the first inning,” Benjamin Russell coach Richy Brooks said. “We got a good start again, and we just didn’t do a good job. We didn’t do a good job offensively all series. I guess you credit them, but we didn’t play well. From top to bottom, we didn’t play well (Friday).”  

Benjamin Russell finished with just two hits on the day and totaled 10 hits over the series. But it certainly had opportunities.

Nick McGhee drew a walk to lead off the game and he stole second. He was then followed by a Wilson Hays second, putting McGhee on third. Courtesy runner Denzel Greene got himself into scoring position by swiping second. But a strikeout, a popup and a fly out ended the inning quickly in Hillcrest’s favor.

While the Wildcats struggled to get timely hitting, the Patriots were the definition of clutch during Friday’s game. All but one of their runs came with two outs. But Hillcrest immediately took the wind out of Benjamin Russell’s sails in the bottom of the first inning.

With two outs and runners on first and third, Hillcrest’s Patrick Hollyhand batted into an error that allowed a run to score, and the wheels fell off for BRHS from there. Colton Lunceford smacked a two-run double, and Kyle Chastine and John Cade Tunnell had back-to-back run-scoring singles to easily give the Patriots the quick edge.

“It’s a team game,” Brooks said. “You gotta catch the ball and you gotta throw strikes. I’m disappointed. We had a huge crowd follow us down here. We had as many people as they did, and to play like this is very disappointing. It’s a very sour, bitter-tasting ending to what we did this year.”

Brooks’ disappointment was likely amplified by the huge turnaround Benjamin Russell had this year and the fact he felt his squad could’ve taken it even further. The Wildcats went from missing the playoffs a year ago to advancing to the quarterfinals this season, but Brooks and the entire team wanted more.

“We got a year older and did things a little bit better until here recently,” Brooks said. “I’m just very disappointed in the way we showed up (Friday), and that’s not going to go away. At some point in time, somebody’s gotta be able to step up in a big game. This was a game to get us to the next step, but credit (Hillcrest). They outplayed us the whole series, so they deserved what they got.” 

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.