Chelsea sweeps No. 2 Hillcrest to earn spot in 6A title series

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

CHELSEA – When an unranked team beats the No. 7 and No. 1 ranked teams in the first two rounds of the playoffs, respectively, it’s OK to be surprised, but when that same team beats the No. 2 team in the semifinals, it’s time to start respecting how good they are.

That’s exactly the respect the Chelsea Hornets’ baseball team has earned after taking down No. 2 Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa on Wednesday, May 8, to earn a spot in the Class 6A state championship series.

Coming off of two three-game series wins against Faith Academy and Russell County, both on the road, the Hornets earned a semifinal matchup with the Patriots back home and needed just two games to complete the sweep and advance to state.

In the previous two series, Chelsea dropped game one after leading late in both, which forced the Hornets to win two games in a row to keep their season alive.

Against Hillcrest, however, Chelsea got an unreal performance from Connor Ball on the mound in game one to pick up a 2-0 victory.

In that first game, Ball and Patriots’ pitcher Garrett McMillan were locked in a battle, but in the bottom of the fifth, it was McMillan who was the first to crack.

After an error and walk allowed Adam Reaves and Nolan Forehand to reach in the first three at bats, Bennett Horton and Carter Frederick hit back-to-back singles to put Chelsea up 2-0 late in the contest.

With Ball playing as well as he was on the mound, that cushion was all he needed to finish off the game. He allowed just one more baserunner in the top of the sixth, but a double play to close that half inning and a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the seventh allowed him to end the game by putting the visitors down in order.

Ball finished the game with a shutout allowing just two hits and striking out eight in the winning effort.

At the plate, Carter Frederick went 2-for-3 with one RBI, while Horton went 1-for-3 with one RBI.

With that victory in the first game, the Hornets had the confidence of knowing they had won two game twos in a row each of the last two weeks.

Now having won their first game one, they were hoping to pick up their biggest win of the season to advance to the state championship with a sweep.

In game two, Chelsea struck first again in the top of the third thanks to two familiar faces.

Just like the game before, with two runners on, Horton and Frederick picked up back-to-back hits, this time doubles, to drive in three runs and put the Hornets on top 3-0.

In the bottom of the fifth, Hillcrest had its first answer of the night when a two-RBI double cut Chelsea’s lead to just one run late in the game.

A half inning later, however, the Hornets had an extremely quick answer getting those runs right back.

After loading the bases just before a second out was recorded, the Patriots made a pitching change, which played a factor.

The first two batters the new pitcher faced ended in back-to-back bases-loaded walks to bring home two more runs for a 5-2 lead.

With solid pitching again for the Hornets in the second game, that lead seemed as if it would be tough to overcome.

The first 4 2/3 innings were thanks to Brock Hill, who allowed four hits and two runs with one strikeout. That paved the way for trustworthy bullpen arm Jacob Tinnell to close the game out as he allowed just two hits with no runs and one strikeout.

Hillcrest ended up putting two runners aboard in the bottom of the final inning, which threatened Chelsea’s lead in a nerve-wracking situation.

With two down, however, the Hornets needed just one more out in the game.

During the next at bat, Tinnell forced a fly ball to center field that brought all of the fans to their feet and had everyone holding their breath. As soon as the ball hit Horton’s glove in center field, an eruption occurred.

What was one of the largest crowds to ever attend a Chelsea baseball game went crazy, while the players immediately bolted toward a dog pile near second base with cups of water being flung everywhere in the celebration before the mass of Hornets sprinted to the outfield wall to celebrate with the students.

Chelsea was led by a hot Frederick, who has been on fire in the postseason. He went 2-for-4 with two RBIs at the plate, while Horton went 2-for-4 with one RBI. Boyle and Forehand added RBIs with walks, while Ball, Austin Frye and Reaves all had one hit.

Chelsea will now get a crack at another ranked team, but this time a state championship will be on the line when the Hornets travel to Montgomery to take on the Cullman Tigers in a best-of-three for the Class 6A title starting Thursday, May 16, at 7 p.m.