Chelsea beats Gardendale in game 3 to advance to Class 6A semifinals

By SETH HAGAN | Special to the Reporter

GARDENDALE – The Chelsea Hornets seized a spot in the Class 6A Final Four after taking down Gardendale with a balanced effort Saturday, May 8 as Parker Szush gave his team six strong innings on the mound and enough time for the offense to close the game out with a big four-run sixth inning in the 8-2 win.

The Hornets have turned to Szush two weeks in a row to survive game back-to-back playoff game threes and advance to the semifinals.

This week, Szush had to overcome a rough start as Gardendale took a two-out pitch yard for the game’s first run in the bottom of the first inning to take the early lead.

However, it was the last time they the Rockets scored on the talented hurler.

Chelsea responded immediately in the top of the second as Jackson Webster and Connor Ball both reached base to lead off the inning.

Webster singled to third and eventually ended up on third after a sacrifice bunt before speeding home on the ensuing groundout to tie the game 1-1.

Ball beat out the throw on a bunt as well and got to third base, which brought Kaden Weldon to the plate.

Weldon sent screamer over the left field fence for a two-run homer to give the Hornets and Szush a 3-1 cushion.

With the lead, Szush settled in and was brilliant on the mound, pitching five scoreless innings in a row and allowing only four base runners in that span while striking out two.

The Hornets infield gave Szush everything else he needed as they completed double plays twice to end any threat Gardendale started.

Adam Reaves turned a hit by pitch into a run with some great base running in the top of the fifth, advancing to second as a teammate was caught in a rundown. He later stole third base and then home on a catcher’s error for a 4-1 lead.

Chelsea’s second double play of the afternoon in the bottom of the fifth set up their big sixth inning at the plate.

The stunning fact was all of the Hornets’ runs came with two outs.

Weldon, Cole Kennedy and Reaves came through in the clutch for three consecutive singles with Kennedy and Reaves notching two RBIs.

Up 6-1, that duo then strolled home as teammates were hit by pitches to give the Hornets an 8-1 lead.

With Szush taken out going into the bottom of the seventh, Gardendale threatened by loading the bases but only scored one run Campbell McCluney got the final three outs to ice the win.

Weldon led Chelsea with two hits, two runs and two RBIs with Jackson Webster also picking up two hits and one run while adding an RBI.

Five other Hornets also gathered hits in the game, including Reaves, Chris McNeill, Christian Kallaher, Kennedy and Reid Gongwer. Reaves, Gongwer, Kallaher and Kennedy all had one RBI as well.

Szush finished with six innings of work allowing four hits and two walks while striking out three in the win.

The Hornets got the opportunity at a game three after beating Gardendale 10-0 in a run-rule win in game two thanks to Brock Hill going the distance on the mound. He gave up one hit and had five strikeouts in the shutout to help Chelsea win the first of two straight must-win matchups.

In the first win of the series, Connor Ball also had a big game at the plate after a strong outing on the mound in game one. He totaled three hits and four RBIs in the 10-0 win.

In addition to him, McNeill and Gongwer each had two RBIs, while Gongwer totaled two hits. Weldon also had a hit and one RBI.

The Hornets lost the opening game 1-0, but Ball gave up just three hits and one run in the loss. The senior Alabama commit also struck out nine in the game to reach a new record with 117 strikeouts in a season, surpassing his 113 from 2019.

Chelsea will meet Hartselle in the semifinals Friday, May 14 with a chance to return to the state title game.