Chelsea takes down No. 6 Faith Academy to earn quarterfinal berth

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

MOBILE – The 2018 Class 5A state champions are no more thanks to the Chelsea Hornets.

After losing game one of a best-of-three series in the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs, the Chelsea Hornets responded with a 7-2 victory on Friday night, before coming back a day later on Saturday, April 27, to take down Faith Academy and complete the series victory to advance to the quarterfinals of the playoffs.

Faith Academy had been to three consecutive state championship series at the 5A level before moving up to the 6A classification this year where the Rams met their match in the Hornets.

Having split the first two games of the series on Friday night, the two returned to the field on Saturday to play one deciding game to determine which would move on to the quarterfinals.

After facing a difficult schedule throughout the season, the Hornets weren’t scared of the big moment against the No. 6 team in the classification and came out hot early in the decisive game.

In the top of the first, it was one swing of the bat from Bennett Horton that built Chelsea’s momentum early. After a leadoff walk from Jacob Boyle and a pop out put one aboard with one out, Horton stepped to the play and set in for a battle.

Courtesy runner Turner Griffin stole second on the first pitch of the at bat, but it didn’t matter which base he was on shortly after.

In a 3-1 hitter’s count, Horton got the exact pitch he wanted and rocketed a ball deep to left field for a two-run homer that put Chelsea on top 2-0 after one-inning of play.

An inning later, the Hornets proceeded to load the bases with one out following a walk from Jacob Tinnell and two singles from Austin Frye and Adam Reaves.

That was followed by a fielder’s choice on a ground ball from Boyle, but Tinnell was the only runner able to cross the plate during that out, while the two other runners were left in scoring position in the frame.

Chelsea’s 3-0 lead wasn’t threatened until the bottom of the third when Faith Academy’s John Bell hit a solo homer to lead off the inning.

The Hornets, however, answered back with their strongest inning of the series in the top of the fourth thanks to a powerful two-out rally that became the difference maker.

Following two ground outs, Faith’s pitcher helped Chelsea out with back-to-back walks to put runners on first and second, before each advanced into scoring position on a passed ball during Boyle’s at bat.

Again, it didn’t matter which base they were on, however, as Boyle got himself into a 3-1 hitter’s count similar to Horton’s earlier in the game. On the fifth pitch of the at bat, he got the exact pitch he was looking for and drove a line drive to right field that got to the wall.

Boyle was able to stretch out a triple, while clearing the bases in the process as both Frye and Reaves scored to put Chelsea up 5-1.

Now having rattled the Rams, Nolan Forehand drew a walk during his at bat to put runners on the corners.

Horton then stepped to the plate, and during his at bat, Griffin came in for Chelsea’s sixth run thanks to a passed ball. Horton then singled to put runners back on the corners for Carter Frederick.

While Frederick couldn’t bring home both baserunners, he did double to left field to drive home one final run to complete a four-run inning all with two outs on the board.

Now up 7-1, the Hornets were in a good situation, but Faith Academy made things interesting again with a two-run home run in the bottom half of the inning to cut the deficit to four runs with three innings still to play.

Chelsea went down in order in the top of the fifth, and the game became even more tense when the Rams scored two more runs in the home half to cut the Hornets’ lead to 7-5.

During the bottom of the fifth, however, Chelsea was able to get out of a jam with runners on the corners and only one out thanks to Horton’s pitching.

The thrilling battle spilled over into the top of the sixth when the Hornets led off the inning with back-to-back singles. While a sac fly only drove one run home before the final two outs were recorded, Chelsea had extended its lead to 8-5, and at this point, every insurance run mattered.

Especially after the Rams answered yet again with an RBI double in the bottom of the sixth to cut the deficit right back to two runs.

In the top of the seventh, without picking up a hit, the Hornets took advantage of a hit batter and an error before adding to their lead on a pick-off attempt of Connor Ball, which allowed J.T. McGregor to score the final run of the game.

Trailing 9-6, Faith entered the bottom of the seventh with one final chance and threatened severely.

Following a single and a walk, the Rams had two runners on base with no outs. That was followed by a strikeout, but then another single to load the bases with only one out in the inning.

But the attempt to pull off a final-inning comeback was brought to a screeching halt when the base runner on third was pegged out in an attempted steal before Frederick struck out Bell to record the final out and pick up the biggest save of the season to send Chelsea to the quarterfinals.

Chelsea was led by Boyle at the plate thanks to a 2-for-3 performance featuring three RBIs. Horton had a nice game as well going 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored, while Reaves went 2-for-2 with two runs scored. Frederick added an RBI on one hit, while Forehand also had an RBI with one walk.

Forehand got the start on the mound and pitched the first four innings allowing eight hits and five runs while striking out four. Horton then pitched the next two innings and allowed three hits and one run with two strikeouts. Frederick got the save allowing one hit and striking out two in his inning on the mound.

In game one of the series, Chelsea fell 2-1 but got strong pitching from Ball, who went 5 2/3 innings allowing two hits and two runs while striking out a series-high 10 batters. In the loss, Will Peacock, Frye and Horton all went 1-for-3.

In a must-win second game, the Hornets got two hits from Forehand and Ball, while Boyle, Horton, Frederick, Peacock and Reaves all had one hit. Horton, Frederick, Peacock, Tinnell and Frye had RBIs. Brock Hill picthed the first three innings of the game allowing one hit and one run while striking out two. Tinnell closed the final four innings and allowed four hits while striking out four.

The reward for advancing; Chelsea now gets another road trip to take on No. 1 ranked Russell County. This team, however, has faced it all this year and will be ready for the challenging series, which will kick off at 5 p.m. on Friday, May 3, with a doubleheader.