By Kim West
Jubilation and streamers erupted Friday as host Athens Bible pummeled Cedar Bluff for 26 runs in the Class 1A baseball semifinals, advancing to its first state championship game in five seasons.
No. 4 ABS won the best-of-three series with solid pitching, steady fielding and lively bats, beating the unranked Tigers 9-2 on a grand slam by senior Cole Graviett in the opener and 17-7 with a pair of six-run innings in the clincher.
Cedar Bluff momentarily seized momentum in game two when senior Dalton Cosby cleared the bases with his own grand slam for a 4-0 Indians’ lead in the first inning.
ABS responded with a six-run second frame and stifled a potential comeback after Cedar Bluff trimmed the lead to 11-7 in the bottom of the sixth inning.
The Trojans sent 11 batters to the plate, pushing across six runs scored by Tyler Hudson, Evan Thomas, Jacob Britnell, Jeb Hagewood, Carter Corneil and Graviett.
Hudson, a senior second baseman, finished 8-of-11 in the series, including a five-hit, three-RBI performance in the second game.
ABS, which is anchored by its nine seniors, finished off Cedar Bluff with a battery of two eighth-graders.
Kenneth Adams, who played a key role in closing out playoff series against Shoals Christian and Decatur Christian, relieved winning pitcher Graviett in the fifth inning of game two and calmly slammed the door shut on the Tigers, striking out four and allowing no earned runs.
“Nothing was going through my mind other than blotting out the crowd and just pitching,” Adams said. “I thought we played our best games (against Cedar Bluff), and we knew after beating Shoals Christian we could go to the finals.”
Aiding Adams’ effort was starting catcher Daniel Cundiff, who threw out a baserunner and had three hits in game two, along with Corneil. Cundiff also caught senior Zach Ivey’s complete-game victory in the opener.
Athens Bible (27-7) opens the championship series at 4 p.m. Thursday at Paterson Field in Montgomery, with game two at 10 a.m. Friday. Their opponent will be Saturday’s winner in the rain-delayed semifinal series between top-ranked St. Luke and unranked Fayetteville.
The Trojans’ motto is “Together we can,” with the credo printed on their practice shirts and being cultivated through team dinners.
“In the finals, we have to keep on hitting, be focused and stay together as a team,” Cundiff said. “We just have to believe.”