Ford Hilyer had Division I-A offers but the Alabama Christian Academy senior had just one offer that mattered.
On Thursday, Hilyer held a ceremony at the school to accept a scholarship to play baseball at Faulkner University.
“I’ve been working for this my whole life,” he said. “Just all the hours of work I’ve put in and everybody I’ve been with and have helped me along the way, it’s just a great moment for all of us.
“My granddad was the president of Faulkner for a long time and I’ve always grown up around the school and grown up going to practices, watching their games and looking up to those guys. It’s just a dream come true to play for Coach (Patrick) McCarthy.”
McCarthy was on hand for the ceremony, along with Hilyer’s grandfather Billy, the former Faulkner president who retired in 2015 after 28 years at the school. Ford Hilyer’s lifelong affiliation with the school made his choice an easy one.
“It’s right in my backyard so I know everything about it,” he said. “It’s just a great place and I still get to be around my family.”
Hilyer started playing travel ball with the Dirtbags as an eight-year-old and moved on to the East Coast Sox when he was 15, teaming up with former University of Alabama standout and All-American Joe Caruso.
“When I speak of Ford Hilyer, I always mention the word passion,” Caruso said. “He exemplifies this passion on and off the field with his drive to excel as a person and a player. As a player, Ford’s God-given talent shines through his small but powerful stature and as a person, he was an unbelievable teammate who played wherever and whenever he was asked to play with a servant’s heart. As a director for the East Coast Sox, we are always looking for players with Ford’s heart and passion for baseball and Jesus Christ.He was a home run for us, having him for two seasons.”
At ACA, he moved into the starting role as a freshman, catching future Alabama standout Chandler Taylor.
“We asked Ford to do something in the ninth grade that was very difficult,” ACA coach Don Gilliam said. “He is the only guy in our program that Chandler felt trusted enough to catch him. And that speaks volumes right there.”
He batted .312 this season as he alternated between catcher and pitcher, leading the team with 10 extra-base hits. On the mound, he was 8-2 with a 1.98 ERA.
“People look at him as a catcher or as a pitcher and he is,” Gilliam said, “but where Ford has been blessed with athletic talent, he’s also worked at that athletic talent. It’s the leadership that you get from Ford Hilyer that I’m really, really going to miss. He comes early and stays late. He is going to lead for us without being challenged to lead. That’s the type of person he is.”
At Faulkner, he will give up his four-year starting role at catcher to become a full-time pitcher.
“I’ve caught my whole life, so it’s going to be a little different,” he admitted, “but pitching is something I’ve grown into. I realize my arm is my strength.”
Photos above: Controversial call at second base. Saint James shortstop Jackson Howard tags out Nolan Sasser of Trinity attempting to swipe second early in Friday’s game.
Photo: Art Parker By TIM GAYLE
Thursday’s game between St. James and Trinity settled the 4A Area 4 championship after T.R. Robertson and his Trojan teammates won a pitching duel with the Wildcats’ Cam Lovrich 1-0 in the seventh inning.
The key, for both teams, was how they responded in the final two games of the three-game series on Friday at St. James.
“We really weren’t worried about this game because we were pretty much (already area champions) but we want to be fundamentally sound,” Robertson said. “I think we carried over the confidence from (Thursday).”
Trinity coach Ken Whittle knew the Trojans would be confident. What he was wondering was how his Wildcats would respond.
“The whole purpose of playing the game is learning how to deal with adversity, good or bad,” Whittle said. “It’s easy to handle the good stuff. The hard part in life is handling the bad stuff, just like the disappointment of losing 1-0. You’ve got to refocus the next day.”
An inspired Trinity squad jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first five innings, then unraveled as the Trojans rallied to take a 7-6 win in the first game of a doubleheader. St. James only got stronger from there, while Trinity appeared to go backward in a 7-2 loss to the Trojans that left the Wildcats (19-9) reeling as they prepare for the first round of the playoffs in Mobile against defending 4A state champion UMS-Wright in a best-of-three series that starts Friday.
“I don’t think we’re ready to go (play the Bulldogs), but we’re going to practice (on Saturday),” Whittle said. “We’ll see who wants to show up. We’re either going to change some names (in the batting order) or we’re going to change some attitudes.”
St. James coach Keith Lucky certainly understood Whittle’s frustration after the Wildcats committed 10 errors in the two Friday games.
“I understand,” Lucky said. “They were making a lot of mistakes. And we made a ton. It’s frustrating as a coach when that happens. We kicked it around and weren’t playing real sharp at the beginning of the ballgame. Next thing I know, they start doing the same thing. It was sloppy on both ends.”
St. James (25-4) will play host to Satsuma in a best-of-three series on Friday in the first round of the playoffs.
In the first game, on Friday Trinity scored four runs in the first inning, another in the third and one in the fifth for a 6-0 lead but left the bases loaded in the fifth and runners on second and third in the sixth, squandering the momentum established in the early innings.
St. James used a pair of Trinity errors to score two runs in the fifth and two more errors to score three runs in the sixth. In the seventh, three consecutive two-out singles by Josh Garnett, Mitchell Madore and Ryan Roche tied the game, setting the stage for a walk by Shaw Woodson to load the bases. Carson Howard sent the next pitch to right field to score Madore and cap the comeback.
“Shaw Woodson, that last at-bat he had was phenomenal,” Lucky said. “He came up big. And Carson Howard came on in relief of Madore. And (Stephen) Sadie, in the second ballgame, pitched great.”
Robertson went 2 for 3, Woodson and Roche went 2 for 4 and Howard went 2 for 5 in the win.
“We came out sloppy and in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings we picked it up,” Robertson said, “and that’s really good for us because this whole season we’ve been up in the early innings so we wanted to see how we could play in the later innings.
“It shows us that we can hit against really good pitching and we just have to be smart and take good pitches and be selective. And that’s with any game.”
Sadie surrendered a double to Trace Bright and a single to Will Aaron for the Wildcats’ only hits in the second game. Woodson, meanwhile, opened the bottom of the first by reaching base on a wild pitch following a strikeout, went to second on a wild pitch, to third on a wild pitch and scored on a wild pitch. It was that kind of night for the Wildcats, who gave up two runs in the first, another in the second and another in the fourth before allowing three more in the sixth to complete the three-game collapse against the Trojans.
“That’s a big deal,” Robertson said. “Beating them in football was really big and now beating them in baseball, we’re feeling really good about ourselves. We just have to keep working on fundamentals and I think we’ll be good.”
After Thursday’s one run affairWhittle said it best. “A great baseball game. It was one of those games that whoever made the first big mistake would lose,” the Wildcats coach said. “And we made it.”
Robertson led off in the top of the seventh with nothing but goose eggs on the scoreboard. Robertson pulled off a monumental surprise by dropping down a bunt with an infield playing at normal depth. “I saw them expecting anything but a bunt and decided to try and lay one down. It worked. What’s funny is that it is the first bunt I’ve had all season,” Robertson explained. The throw to first base trying to get Robertson was off target and bounced into foul territory. Robertson moved to second base on the error and then proceeded to third base on a wild pitch while teammate Matthew Robinson was at the plate. It looked like Wildcats starting pitcher Camden Lovrich would get out of the jam after retiring a couple of Trojans, but Josh Garnett hit a textbook Texas Leaguer into short centerfield and the Trojans got the only run they needed.
The city of Montgomery will make history in February, 2019 when two of the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s four basketball regionals will be played in the Capital City.
The Central Regional, which has been held at Alabama State’s Dun-Oliver Acadome since 2007, will be renamed the Southeast Regional and will be joined by the Southwest Regional at Garrett Coliseum.
“I’m definitely in favor of it for a lot of reasons,” Catholic coach Robb McGaughey said. “I’m from Montgomery so I’m a little biased but I think we’re better suited to host a tournament.”
The AHSAA Central Board voted on Thursday to move a second regional to Montgomery to erase the travel of Montgomery teams and ease the burden of traveling for Mobile-area schools. The regional, formerly known as the South Regional, had been played at Troy, Bay Minette, Mobile and for the last six years at the Dothan Civic Center.
“We had requests from Mobile, Dothan, Birmingham, Montgomery,” AHSAA executive director Steve Savarese said. “There were requests from all those cities, but this was the best fit for us. Travel is the number one issue. Dothan did a fabulous job, Dothan did an awesome job. There is nothing we can say negative about Dothan but the travel was the biggest issue.”
St. James coach Nigel Card echoed Savarese’s comments, praising the staff of the Dothan regional for their hospitality but welcoming a change to Montgomery.
“I think the support would be a lot better,” Card said. “Maybe this will encourage more of the fan base to come out and support us. I think (being in a bigger city) will draw some fans that don’t get a chance to see you play. I think it’ll be good for the Montgomery teams. We always felt like why did we have to leave when we have a regional right here in Montgomery?”
The Southwest Regional will draw from a pool of sub-regional winners in areas 1 through 4, while the Southeast Regional will continue to draw from areas 5 through 8. In recent years, Trinity, LAMP, St. James and Catholic have been in 4A Area 4 and Carver, Lanier and Park Crossing have been in 6A Area 4 – traveling to Dothan – while teams in Area 5 such as Prattville Christian, Montgomery Academy, Alabama Christian, Elmore County, Holtville and Tallassee have been assigned to Alabama State.
Garrett Coliseum was initially assigned the Central Regional in 2016 after Alabama State University officials announced they wanted to end their relationship with the regionals, prompting coliseum officials to spend more than $50,000 getting the facility ready for the event.
City officials, after reconsideration from ASU officials, asked to be released from their contract with the coliseum and returned the event to Dunn-Oliver Acadome.
In return, the coliseum was assigned the AHSAA South Super Section wrestling tournament in February.
“I hope that what we did with the wrestling tournament was a step in the right direction toward gaining their confidence in doing something else out here,” said Alabama National Fair general manager Randy Stephenson, who is in charge of the facility. “I think we did a good job with the wrestling tournament and I think that gave them the confidence of our staff’s ability along with how well it sets up for their sporting events.”
Savarese said the wrestling tournament’s success “was definitely a factor, but it wasn’t the primary reason. The primary reason was we’ve been sending schools from this part of the state down south. We looked at the most effective travel to facilities and that’s the two Montgomery facilities.
“But there is nothing that we have asked them to do they aren’t willing to do. From heating and cooling to locker rooms to scoreboards, everything we’ve asked them to do, they’ve been cooperative. Randy is the best. He is as good as they get, to work with. They hosted our super sectional wrestling and we had a number of coaches thank us. It’s a great facility.”
When the $2.8 million showplace was dedicated on Oct. 20, 1953, the Alabama Agricultural Center was billed as the nation’s largest indoor arena, a title it would soon surrender with the building of the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines, Iowa in 1955 and Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky., in 1956. It was renamed Garrett Coliseum in 1963 to honor W.W. Garrett, chairman of the agricultural board when the facility was first constructed.
The first sporting event at the coliseum was a doubleheader on Dec. 12, 1953, when Sidney Lanier played Eufaula, followed by Auburn and Georgia Tech. The facility would accommodate 8,528 fans, officials announced, but only 4,000 showed up to watch the Poets defeat the defending Class AA champs 61-52, followed by Auburn’s 83-57 win over the Yellow Jackets.
The Montgomery Invitational Basketball Tournament, featuring eight high school teams and four college teams, followed nine days later, with Alabama entertaining Holy Cross in early January. Before long, some of the top games involving Alabama and Auburn made their way to Garrett, along with the Blue-Gray basketball tournament, held in conjunction with the annual football game.
“I think that’ll be pretty neat playing in a historic venue like that,” McGaughey said. “Hopefully, the city can add a little upgrade to it, but just knowing some of the biggest Alabama-Auburn games from way back when were played there, I think it’s neat to play in an historic venue.”
Larger coliseums at Alabama and Auburn ended the rivalry at Garrett in the late 1960s, but it continued to hold the Southeastern Conference indoor track meet through 1979 as well as several top high school tournaments.
“I remember as a young man going to Garrett Coliseum to see Carver and Jeff Davis and Auburn High School all playing against each other and being excited to be there,” Card said. “I think it’ll be good. I think the city will do whatever they have to do to make it more fan-friendly.”
The court, which has been in place for Harlem Globetrotter games the last two years, is in storage at the Multiplex and will be installed by city officials for the event. A pair of scoreboards, donated by Buffalo Rock for the 2016 Globetrotters’ tour, remain in place awaiting the regional.
The coliseum held its last AHSAA-sanctioned event on Feb. 1, 1992 with the state indoor track meet. Twenty-seven years later, the 10-day regional promises to breathe new life into a facility that has been overlooked by many as coliseum officials fight to renovate the 66-year-old arena.
Stephenson promises to have the facility ready for the event, but cautions he can only do so much with the aging structure.
“I think they all know what the building is,” he said. “I think we put our best foot forward when we were trying to get it the first time (in 2015). The improvements we made the last time are in place. A lot of things can be improved here, but that comes down to money. You can’t improve on some of the things here until there is a move to rehab it.”