By Phil Gibson
With the playoffs right around the corner, the Clay-Chalkville baseball team seems to be hitting its stride at the right time.
The Cougars dominated Leeds on Saturday behind an outstanding pitching performance from junior Stephen Blackshear. He threw a no-hitter and was one error shy of a perfect game.
Pitching had been an issue earlier this season, when head coach Brandon Johnson was dissatisfied with his pitching staff’s inability to consistently throw strikes. That seems to have turned around the last few weeks.
“The last eight games we’ve really pitched well,” Johnson said. “Hayden Moore threw a two-hitter against Pinson Valley the other night, and we’ve been really waiting on him to get going
. Jordan Rutter has really been pitching well, so we’re throwing the ball well, and when we do that we play better defense.”
It looks as if the Cougars might be peaking just in time for the playoffs. More game experience has helped the team improve across the board.
“Hopefully we’re playing right at the right time,” Johnson said. “We feel like we’re playing our best baseball right now, and that’s what we need. We played some really good games early on, but we weren’t stringing ’em together. Now we feel like we are.”
Besides pitching, a huge part of the Cougars’ improvement this year has been run generation. The Cougars have faced and will face tough pitching this year, making run production a crucial part of any postseason aspirations.
“We feel like we’re going in the right direction offensively,” Johnson said. “We’ve seen some good arms, so hopefully that’s going to help us. We’re doing better at generating offense even without hits. We’re running the bases better and we’re bunting better.”
Clay-Chalkville will need to do well in Class 6A, Area 13 play going forward, where its record is 1-1.
The team hosts area foe Pell City on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. travels to Pell City Thursday for a 4:30 p.m. doubleheader.
“(Pell City) has become a really big rivalry,” Johnson said. “One of the teams has put the other out of the playoffs three years in a row, so it’s going to be an important game. We are very evenly matched. It’s going to be two very similar teams out there playing each other.”