Story By Caleb Turrentine – Special to Central Alabama Scoreboard
Photography by Brian Tannehill – Director of Photography
MONTGOMERY – The AISA-AA state tournament was filled with three-game series at every turn with Edgewood and Autauga coming out on top of them in each of the last two rounds. The two rivals split their three regular season meetings so when they were set to meet in the championship, it was seemingly destined to go to three games.
Autauga’s John Gabehart apparently did not get that memo.
Things were going as expected late into the second game with the momentum on Edgewood’s side in a tied game but with two runners on in the bottom of the sixth inning, Gabehart came to the plate looking to deliver the big blow.
His single dropped into left field as two runners came home to score and it was enough to give Autauga a 5-4 victory in Game 2, completing the sweep and earning the Generals (19-11) an AISA state championship.
“I have been talking to Gabehart all year about mental toughness and I think he showed everybody out here tonight how tough he was,” Autauga coach Bobby Carr said. “Just an amazing performance.”
Gabehart appeared to injure his right leg in the top of the sixth inning, making a running catch in deep left field but he was called upon to be a relief pitcher anyway. He went on to make his plate appearance and as the two winning runs crossed home plate, Gabehart was hobbling to first base before being taken off for a pinch runner.
“It really was like a Kirk Gibson moment,” Carr said. “I don’t really believe in individual awards but if you had to get an MVP, it would be Gabehart. The guy had a save in Game 1, win in Game 2, a game-winning hit. I’m just super proud of what he did.”
Edgewood (18-19) had a chance to level things up in the top of the seventh, scoring once and bringing two more runners into scoring position with no outs. But Gabehart never panicked, recording a strikeout, groundout and pop out to end the game.
The Wildcats were loaded with chances but could only deliver one big hit. JT Brazell had a two-run single to tie the game in the fifth inning but as a team, Edgewood finished just 1-of-16 with runners in scoring position during the second game.
“I’m yelling at them middle away but in the heat of the moment, it’s see ball, hit ball,” Edgewood coach Justin Jones said. “During a game like this, you can’t coach during the game. You have to let the boys play and sometimes in baseball, it just doesn’t fall your way.”
Autauga won Game 1, 4-2, behind the pitching of Josh Palmer who bounced back after struggling in his final regular season appearance in a loss to the Wildcats. Palmer was one out shy of a complete game due to pitch count but he allowed just two unearned runs on three hits while striking out eight. He retired 11 of the final 12 batters he faced, limiting any chance at a comeback for Edgewood
“I thought that was as good a job as I have seen him pitch all year,” Carr said. “I told him you are built for greatness and it’s your time to go on the stage and show everybody what you’ve got.”
Palmer and Gabehart were both named to the all-tournament team, joining teammates Will Traywick and Noah Ray.
“I think a lot of people in this world can learn from this team,” Carr said. “There’s so much unselfishness. Nobody cares who gets the credit. It’s just a great, great team win… When you can put your own selfish wants and needs aside to do what’s best for the group, that’s when greatness happens.”
Edgewood battled back from deficits twice in the first half and erased a three-run lead in Game 2 but the Wildcats could never get over the hump to take the lead at any point in the series. Jones said he was still proud of how his players fought because it showed their resiliency.
“We played arguably the hardest schedule for AISA and I think that helped us out in situations like today,” Jones said. “They don’t give up and they fought until the last out. As a coach, you can’t do anything but tip your hat to that. They kept responding.”
Walker Hall, Mitchell Boyd and Alex Johnson were the three Wildcats named to the all-tournament team.
“The six seniors leaving us, they laid a foundation for the groups to come after them and it’s going to be hard to follow,” Jones said. “They said the precedence of what Edgewood baseball is and we are going to build from that.”
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