Chelsea downs Cullman in game 3 to advance to quarterfinals
By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor
CHELSEA – When the Chelsea Hornets lost to Cullman in the Class 6A State Championship series to end the 2019 season, it seemed to overshadow a special year.
Then, out for redemption last year, the season was cut short due to COVID-19. But finally, on Saturday, May 1, the Hornets got their revenge in a matchup with No. 3 Cullman in the second round of the playoffs.
After splitting with the Bearcats a night earlier following a 5-4 win and 7-2 loss with their aces Connor Ball and Brock Hill on the mound in each game, the Hornets came back on their home field Saturday looking to take the rubber match.
Going into the win-or-go-home matchup, the Hornets hadn’t been tested in a nerve-wracking game three this season, sweeping through area play and the first round of the playoffs on the arms of Ball and Hill.
But there was never any second guessing who they would turn to on the mound in the decisive game—Parker Szush.
A hard-throwing right, Szush is one of the team’s most confident players, and he welcomed the spotlight.
The Hornets gave him an early 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first, and he went to work on the mound.
Szush allowed just four hits and one walk in a complete-game effort, giving up two unearned runs and striking out six to play a major role in Chelsea taking down the Bearcats 7-2 to advance to the quarterfinals of the playoffs.
At the plate, the Hornets grabbed the early lead in the home half of the first on an error that allowed Chris McNeill to score and a two-RBI triple from Evan Jones to make it 3-0.
Chelsea then added three more runs two innings later when a ground ball from Ball brought home Reid Gongwer and a single from Christian Kallaher brought home Ball and Jackson Webster for a 6-0 advantage.
That was already more than enough cushion for Szush, who allowed just three baserunners through the first four innings.
The Hornets then added one more insurance run on an RBI single from Ball in the bottom of the fourth to extend the lead to 7-0.
Cullman came back to put two runs on the board in the top of the fifth behind an error and a double, but padded lead helped Szush not lose confidence on the mound.
He got the third out of the fifth and went on to put down seven of the next batters he faced.
He then finished the game off in the top of the seventh with one of his six strikeouts before throwing his glove in the air, staring at the oncoming rush of teammates and leaping into the arms of his catcher before a dogpile broke out just in front of the mound.
Ball, Jones and Kallaher all finished the game with two RBIs on one hit, while Ball also scored two runs. Webster added a 2-for-3 performance at the plate with two runs scored.
In game one, the Hornets squeaked out a 5-4 win in the bottom of the seventh thanks to a bunt from Adam Reaves that eventually led to Cole Kennedy scoring all the way from first after a throwing error.
Webster led the way in the win with two hits and one RBI, while Gongwer added two hits as well. Jones and Kallaher both had RBIs in the win, while Reaves and Kennedy had one hit each.
Ball had five strikeouts and gave up eight hits and four runs, two of which were earned.
In game two, Cullman bounced back with a 7-1 win that saw the Hornets get just one hit off the bat of Gongwer. Hill made it three innings and struck out five while giving up six hits and six runs.
Chelsea will now travel to Gardendale for the quarterfinal round next Friday and Saturday if necessary, and while the Hornets have gotten redemption against Cullman, they don’t want this season to end empty-handed without a state championship.
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