After falling in state title game last season, Bulldogs looking to clinch another playoff berth
by Brandon Miller
bmiller@annistonstar.com
Apr 04, 2013 | 4729 views |  0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Piedmont coach James Blanchard and the Bulldogs are one area win away from clinching their sixth straight playoff berth. (Photo by Trent Penny)
Piedmont coach James Blanchard and the Bulldogs are one area win away from clinching their sixth straight playoff berth. (Photo by Trent Penny)
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PIEDMONT — As the Piedmont High baseball players stood on the field at Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery last May, all they could do was watch. Trinity celebrated the Class 3A state championship it had just won.

The Bulldogs had fallen short of earning its first baseball state title.

“We got to play at home for all four playoffs games and we scored 54 runs and played really, really well,” Bulldogs coach James Blanchard said. “I think we just got used to playing on our field and then we went down there. I don’t know if it was the surroundings or being away from home or what. We just didn’t play well.”

Fast forward 11 months, and that loss hasn’t slowed down Piedmont. The Bulldogs aren’t moping about the defeat, even though the team lost four of its top six batters in the lineup to graduation.

“It was tough losing, but you just have to go past that and get ready for the next year of play,” senior Cade Bradley said. “We knew we’d have a good team next year and we could go in, win it and be on the other side.”

Now, Piedmont (14-6) is one Area 10 win away from clinching its sixth straight playoff berth. The Bulldogs’ next opportunity to make that happen comes today against Weaver.

“Our focus every year is to make the playoffs, win the area and win a state championship,” Blanchard said. “I think the guys were really focused when we played Weaver in the first game. We just take it one game at a time.”

But the journey back to this point didn’t come easy.

The loss of 2012 seniors Joel Ray, Trevor Ford, Landon Pruitt and Chris Strott could have set the team back. Instead, upperclassmen such as Bradley stepped up immediately in an attempt to make a return to Montgomery in 2013.

Piedmont had contributors such as Matt Strott, Collin Bradley, Dillon Terry and Cass McCord also returning, but the team didn’t become complete until adding freshmen Bayley Blanchard, Payton Young and Taylor Hayes — all of whom helped the junior varsity team post a 25-3 record last year.

“We got the upperclassmen back, and they stepped up,” Blanchard said. “I know those guys would step up because they were a big part of getting to Montgomery. I was really concerned about our batting because when you go from one to six, that’s a really big jump.”

Lately, Piedmont hasn’t struggled swinging the bat, though. With the addition of solid pitching, the Bulldogs have put together an eight-game winning streak since March 19. They have scored at least five runs in each game and double digits in four.

“We hit the ball great. We work on hitting a lot and we all love to swing the bat,” freshman Bayley Blanchard said. “And pitching has been great, too. I think this is the best pitching I’ve seen for my dad.”

A lot of credit toward hitting also goes to the schedule that James Blanchard put together. Piedmont started the season with games against Jacksonville, Alexandria and Oxford. It also has played Cherokee County and Cleburne County, as well.

“I’m not worried about our record — I’m worried about us winning the right games, which are our area games and when we get into the playoffs,” James Blanchard said. “I schedule hard games because I want to see good pitching and I think that really helped us last year.”

With the winning streak intact and a lone area win all that separates Piedmont from the playoffs, this team is showing the potential of traveling deep into the postseason.

“I told them yesterday after practice that if they keep progressing the way they have then they can be as good as last year if not better,” Blanchard said. “The way we played Tuesday’s night, I compared them to being the same or a little better. We’ll see.”

If Weaver defeats Piedmont twice on Friday, the Bulldogs will have another chance to make the postseason next week. If they win a series against White Plains, which they eliminated in the second round of the playoffs last year, then they’re in.

“If this team plays like I know it can play, there’s nobody in the state that can beat us,” Cade Bradley said. “We’re just doing what we have to do.”

Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star
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