Jaxon Hay had a day.
Benjamin Russell’s playoff fate had been sealed prior to Thursday’s game, but with one final area game on the docket that happened to also mark the Wildcats’ final home contest of the season, Hay and his teammates were determined to end area play the right way.
After two heartbreaking one-run defeats, Hay pitched a complete game and allowed only one unearned run as the Wildcats beat Stanhope Elmore 2-1, denying the Mustangs an Area Championship.
“They’re a really good Stanhope team,” Benjamin Russell coach Richy Brooks said. “This was the third one-run game we’ve played in-a-row, in area games. We finally got one of them. Unfortunately it is our last home game, because we didn’t make the playoffs. But it was really good to keep them from winning it.”
Hay recorded six strikeouts against just one walk and four hits in seven innings Thursday, all in less than 100 pitches.
Benjamin Russell needed a stellar outing, with Stanhope starting the flamethrowing Zach Stevens on the mound opposite Hay.
“He had a really good fastball, had a lively fastball today, and kind of kept them off balance with a breaking ball and a changeup when he needed to,” Brooks said. “The biggest thing was that he challenged them. He challenged them and got after them.”
The Wildcats’ defense stood up behind Hay as well.
With Benjamin Russell ahead by a lone run in the sixth inning, a line drive from Stanhope’s Chase Williams found a gap in center field and should have pushed runners to second and third with one out.
Instead, center fielder Daylen Maness nailed Williams at second base, and the game-tying run never came home.
“We made some good defensive plays behind [Hay], we played really good defense today,” Brooks said.
With the score tied 1-1 in the fifth inning, Benjamin Russell catcher Caiden Hyde found a rare barrel against Stevens and turned it into a double.
Gunnar Vardman entered as a courtesy runner, and from there the Wildcats used some small ball to take the lead: Maness bunted Vardman to third, Sam Scales lined a ball to center to score him on a sacrifice fly.
That 2-1 edge proved decisive.
“We just found a way to string together a couple hits when we got a situation [where we could score],” Brooks said.
Benjamin Russell travels to Sylacauga Friday before closing its season at Elmore County Monday.