Creating some buzz: Chelsea wins in 3 to advance to quarterfinals

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

CHELSEA – After a 3-0 record against Benjamin Russell during the regular season, two of which came at the conclusion of the Lak Martin Classic, Chelsea was looking to win two more against Wildcats in a best of three series on Friday and Saturday April 28-29 as they were the only obstacle in the Hornets’ way of an appearance in the quarterfinals of the 2017 baseball playoffs.

A week after Josh Gregg’s heroics with a game three walk-off single that kept Chelsea’s season alive, the Hornets were forced to three games yet again, but that comfort level from the experience in pressure packed moment the week before clearly paid off.

Trailing 3-0 in the final game, Chelsea scored five unanswered runs over the final five innings as their pitching shut down Benjamin Russell and their offense finally started clicking. The Hornets held on to win by a final of 5-3 in the rubber match as they sealed a spot in the quarterfinals of the 6A playoffs.

“We’re getting a lot out of a lot of our players right now,” Chelsea head coach Michael Stallings said. “We’re just trying to survive and that’s what we need this time of, it’s survive and advance.”

Game 1: Chelsea 7 – Benjamin Russell 8

The first of this three game series was by far the most offensive as the two teams combined for 26 hits, 17 of which came from Benjamin Russell.

Each team also went off for a four-run inning, the first of which came from Chelsea in the fifth to take a 7-3 lead and take what seemed like control of the game at the time. The Wildcats, however, answered back in the top of the sixth with a four-run response to tie the game at seven.

In the top of the seventh, the Hornets were one strike from getting out of the inning before Benjamin Russell strung together a double and two singles with two outs to take an 8-7 lead. Chelsea came back to the plate looking to answer in the bottom half but went 1-2-3 to end the game, which put the Hornets in a situation to have to win two straight games to keep their season alive.

Jacob Burback went 2-3 at the plate with two RBIs and a walk to lead the Hornets at the plate in game one. William Root had a 2-4 game with two runs scored and one RBI, while Scott Arnold added two more RBIs after a 1-3 performance.

“We made some big mistakes in that first game,” Stallings said. “When you make those mistakes in this caliber of a game it hurts and it’s really hard to recover from.”

Game 2: Chelsea 8 – Benjamin Russell 4 

Trailing 1-0 heading to the top of the fifth, a six-run outburst by the Hornets in the inning was responsible for an 8-4 win as Stallings’ team had recovered from that difficult game one loss. Benjamin Russell went on to score two more in the bottom of the fifth and one in the bottom of the sixth to try and inch closer, but Chelsea answered with a run apiece in the top of the sixth and seventh to hang on.

It was Scott Arnold who busted the game open for the Hornets in the fifth after a two-RBI triple gave them their first lead of the game at 2-1. Chelsea only picked up one more hit in the inning, but was able to bring home four more runs thanks to pitching mistakes, an error and a sac fly.

Arnold went 2-3 with two RBIs and one run scored, while Gregg had a 2-4 game driving in one run as well. Riley Watkins, Gregg and Connor Burnett combined to allow nine hits and two earned runs with nine strikeouts on the mound. Watkins was able to pick up the win after going 4.1 innings and exiting with the lead.

“We’re playing tomorrow,” Stallings exclaimed walking off the field. “We got a great pitching performance from Riley tonight, he’s been really solid for us and has really come on late in the season so it was great to see him come out and perform well.”

Stallings said the difference between the two games was that in game one the Wildcats capitalized on mistakes, while in game two Chelsea was able to capitalize. Stallings knew there was still work to be done, however, in game three.

“It’s going to take a great performance from number 19, our lefty, Emmitt Hudspeath,” Stallings said the night before the decisive game. “He’ll be on the mound tomorrow and it’s going to take something special from him.”

Game 3: Chelsea 5 – Benjamin Russell 3

After falling behind 3-0 in the bottom of the second, Chelsea responded quickly with three runs in the top half of the third to tie the game. Thanks to lock down pitching from Hudspeath the rest of the way, who had taken the moment and dominated it just as his coach had hoped, the Hornets were able to be patient and not try to force anything.

Finally, in the top of the sixth, Chelsea put two more runs on the board to take a 5-3 lead, which they were able to hold on to over the next two innings to preserve a 5-3 win and not only pick up their 27th victory of the season, but a spot in the quarterfinals of the playoffs.

Hudspeath was a huge part of the win as he was able to hammer down and throw six consecutive scoreless innings after giving up three in the second. He tossed a complete game throwing 121 pitches allowing seven hits and three unearned runs while striking out eight in a clutch performance with his team’s season on the line.

Burback had another extremely strong performance going 2-4 at the plate with two RBIs thanks to a double and a single. Clay DeWeese also had a nice game going 2-4 with an RBI and one run scored. Root and Nolan Forehand picked up the other two RBIs.

Chelsea now moves on to the quarterfinals where, yet again, they will be the host team. If Benjamin Russell’s 32-0 first-round sweep wasn’t scary enough for the Hornets, they now get a matchup with Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa who has swept G.W. Carver and an extremely good Spanish Fort team by a combined 52-5.

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