St. James takes 2-0 area lead over MA

St. James courtesy runner Jeffrey Ford steals second base in the second inning as Montgomery Academy shortstop Britton Kohn is late with the tag in Friday's area matchup at St. James.

Perhaps it was fitting that Alex Whisenhunt was at the plate in the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded.

After all, the top of the order had their chances to drive in runs and the heart of the order missed on opportunities to end the game. Maybe it was time for St. James’ newest player to deliver with his first hit of the game.

“That catcher has worked so hard for us this year,” St. James coach Keith Lucky said. “We had Jackson (Howard), who broke his thumb, and (Whisenhunt, his replacement) has worked so hard and went through so much. I told Matthew (Robinson) at third base, ‘this kid deserves a walkoff.’”

Whisenhunt pushed a slow-rolling single just past the reach of a diving Jon Clarke Woodward to drive in Robinson for a 5-4 victory over Montgomery Academy in a Class 3A Area 5 contest at St. James.

The win gives the Trojans a 2-0 record in area play after beating the Eagles at Montgomery Academy on Thursday.

“That is huge, especially against that team because they’re a very talented team,” Lucky said. “I feel fortunate.”

Fortunate because the Trojans got four runs in the first inning with the help of four walks and a hit batter by MA starter Cam Holmes. Fortunate because MA reliever Harris Gowan only allowed two hits in shutout relief over a four-inning stretch. Fortunate because the hard-luck Eagles had shown so much promise after scoring all four of their runs on two-out singles by Landon Meadows in the first and third innings and by Jennings Lawson in the third and fifth innings.

“I can’t say enough about Harris, how he comes in, probably earlier than he thought,” Montgomery Academy coach Stephen Vosel said. “He went in there, in some really tough situations, and battled and battled. That’s what has been so nice for us, to hold back Harris and Jon Clarke when we get into situations like that, to have them for long relief situations. So far, both of them have been excellent.

“Another positive out of that game is we’ve struggled to get the big hits, especially with two outs and runners in scoring position.”

Montgomery Academy would get two more chances to pull out the victory, putting a runner on third with two outs in both the sixth and eighth innings. Both times, a grounder to shortstop Carson Howard resulted in the third out. His stab of a Trey Lindsey grounder back up the middle in the sixth robbed Lindsey of a sure RBI single.

“We have a situation there to hit a ball up the middle with runners on second and third that could’ve gotten them in but the shortstop makes a heck of a play,” Vosel said. “He’s a heck of a player. He’s definitely a kid that can change a game.”

St. James, which stranded 15 runners in the game, finally found the hit it needed in the eighth off Woodward. An error, an intentional walk and a hit batter loaded the bases for Jake Prickett. Prickett grounded to third and Thomas Speaks threw home to force out Collier Dean at the plate for the second out. Whisenhunt followed by fighting off an 0-2 pitch with a grounder that barely eluded Woodward. Lawson charged in to grab the ball but didn’t have a play at second or at first in time as Robinson crossed the plate to end the game.

“Credit them,” Lucky said. “They played good defense, they had good pitching, they did what they had to in critical times. They made plays with runners on third base, didn’t make the error at the key time. That’s a good baseball team. I feel very fortunate to get out of that one.”

MA won the third game in the series, beating St. James 11-8 with four runs in the eighth inning to salvage the tiebreaker, should the two teams finished tied in the area standings at the end of the season. Prickett drove in three runs and Zac Russell drove in two for the Trojans, while Brock Woodham had three hits and Wilson Carter had two.

MA drops to 0-2 in area play and will play another area series with Southside-Selma this weekend.

“We know where we’re at, down 0-2, but at the same time we’ve just got to focus on what we’re going to do day in, day out, just keep fighting to get better,” Vosel said.

St. James (6-5) plays at ACA on Monday at 5 p.m. at the AUM Baseball Complex, while MA (2-5) plays at Reeltown on Monday at 4:30 p.m.