Chelsea wins game three against No. 1 Russell County, earns spot in semis

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

SEALE – Coming into the 2019 baseball season, there was a lot of unknown surrounding the Chelsea Hornets’ baseball team, but after Friday, May 3, the questions surrounding them coming into the season were completely put to rest.

Following a thrilling game-three victory against No. 5 Faith Academy a few days earlier, the Hornets were back at it on May 3 against the No. 1 team in the 6A classification, and the result was no different—a three-run 6-3 victory with their season on the line.

A team that didn’t know what to expect early in the season has now taken down two top five teams in consecutive weeks with game-three victories to earn a spot in the semifinals of the Class 6A playoffs.

It’s a remarkable feat for the team, and the effort throughout the entire series proved the capability of the Hornets moving toward the ultimate goal of a state championship.

Like last week, the Hornets lost the opener of the series by one run in a game they could have easily won.

The Hornets led 6-5 heading into the bottom of the final inning of game one, but gave up a two-out RBI single that allowed Russell County to tie the game and force extra innings.

Again in extras, Chelsea scored in the top of the eighth on a leadoff home run from Carter Frederick and led by one run again, but in the bottom half of the inning, Russell County loaded the bases with two outs before a hit batter and walk drove home two runs for the walk-off 8-7 victory.

Despite the heartbreaking loss, the Hornets responded the way champions do, and put it immediately behind them en route to a dominant 12-6 victory.

Chelsea was fueled by a 10-run second inning to take a 10-0 lead, and while the Hornets gave up five runs in the fourth and one in the fifth, it wasn’t nearly enough to blow the insurmountable lead as they put two insurance runs on the board in the bottom of the fifth to close out the game.

That lead into another game three with their season on the line, but this time against the best opponent they had seen in the 6A classification all year.

Any team that makes a deep run in the playoffs has to have a deep pitching staff due to the possibility of going deep in your bullpen, but specifically because of the challenge of a game three at the high school level.

Finding three great starters that can pitch complete games against the best teams is difficult at even the collegiate level of baseball, but that’s one challenge Reid Gongwer was ready to face.

Following solid pitching from Connor Ball, Brock Hill and Jacob Tinnell in the first two games, he had his moment to make a name for himself in the postseason as well.

Knowing his team would be in better shape if they didn’t have to go deep into the bullpen, Gongwer stepped up and put forth one of the best pitching performances of the season considering the moment.

He went the distance pitching a complete game and allowing just five hits and three runs with two strikeouts to pick up the Hornets’ biggest win of 2019.

What was more impressive was how he responded to a rocky first inning compared to that of his counterpart.

In the top of the first inning, Chelsea struck with half of its six runs thanks to a three-run bomb from Frederick to put the Hornets on top 3-0 early on.

But Russell County responded in the bottom half of the first with three runs of its own, which made it look like a shootout that would need several pitchers was about to break out between the two teams.

In that first inning, however, Gongwer gave up three of the five hits he gave up in the entire game. The rest of the night, he was spectacular allowing just five more baserunners the rest of the way.

Russell County, however, struggled to regroup after the first inning.

In the top of the second, Chelsea got back-to-back singles from Jacob Boyle and Nolan Forehand, which allowed a run to score on a groundout from Bennett Horton.

Then in the top of the third, the Hornets were able to add one more run after a double from Tinnel ended in an RBI single from Austin Frye to put Chelsea on top 5-3.

With the dominance on the mound from Gongwer, that two-run lead was safe, and it became even more safe when the Hornets got an insurance run in the top of the sixth on a sac fly from Horton to close out the 6-3 victory.

Chelsea was led by Frederick with his three-run home run, while Boyle, Forehand and Tinnell each had two hits apiece, while Frye had a hit and one RBI. Adam Reaves also added a 1-for-3 performance.

Chelsea will now host Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa in the semifinals of the playoffs looking to claim a spot in the Class 6A state championship series a week later.

Chelsea wins game three against No. 1 Russell County, earns spot in semis