By Jonathan Deal
Athens Bible coach Bill Murrell overheard talk before Monday’s game that Shoals Christian had circled the game on its calendar before the season started.
The veteran coach’s response? Both teams circled the game.
In one of the most anticipated games of the season, 1A No. 3 Athens Bible (22-2) played a near-flawless game Monday afternoon to defeat top ranked Shoals Christian 3-0.
“We knew we were going into their area, they knew we were going into their area,” Murrell said. “We knew it was going to be a close game, maybe even closer than 3-0.”
Led by pitcher Hayden Phillips, ABS did not commit an error in the shutout victory. Phillips opened the scoring for ABS in the second inning by driving home Blake Cundiff from third on a hard-hit ground ball to first base.
“When the season started, Hayden was not the No. 1, but he’s done so well,” Murrell said. “He had a good defense behind him, but to hold that team scoreless … he’s a gamer.”
Shoals looked like it might get on the board in the third, but a nifty defensive play from second baseman Sam Bobo sparked a double-play that ended the inning.
Another double-play left Shoals Christian runners stranded in the fifth inning when first baseman Cole Graviett caught a line drive, then stepped on first base to keep the 1-0 lead in tact.
ABS extended that lead in the sixth when Drew Ogles’ sacrifice bunt scored Charlie Cook. The Trojans added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth on a sac fly from Graviett that scored Bobo.
The game was played at noon so ABS senior Jacob Hagewood could attend the Bryant-Jordan scholarship banquet Monday night in Birmingham. After seven innings in the dirt, Hagewood had to quickly put on a coat and tie and head south.
“I’ll enjoy it on the drive down,” Hagewood said. “But the job’s not finished. We’ve got to go over there and win one tomorrow.
The teams have accounted for four out of the last five Class 1A baseball championships with Shoals Christian winning the last three. ABS and Shoals could face each other in the second round of the playoffs, regardless of who wins the area title.
The teams play today at Shoals Christian. If Shoals wins, another game will immediately follow.