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Tough Ending for Oxford

Oxford players embrace after the Yellow Jackets fell to Hartselle 4-1 in Game 3 of their Class 6A state final series Thursday on Rudy Abbott Field. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Oxford players embrace after the Yellow Jackets fell to Hartselle 4-1 in Game 3 of their Class 6A state final series Thursday on Rudy Abbott Field. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Jacksonville, AL – op-ranked Hartselle holds second-ranked Oxford to two hits, and two run-scoring errors prove costly as Yellow Jackets fall in Game 3 of their Class 6A semifinal series.

By Joe Medley

 Oxford’s historic 2023 baseball season and 2024 followup ended in May, and on the same field.

This season ended just one series earlier.

Landon Blackwood held the Yellow Jackets to two hits, and two errors proved crucial as top-ranked Hartselle beat No. 2 Oxford 4-1 in Thursday’s winner-take-all Game 3 of their Class 6A semifinal series.

Hartselle advanced to the state-title series and will play the Hillcrest-Tuscalooa-Spanish Fort winner May 16 at 11 a.m. at Choccolocco Park.

Oxford, the defending Class 6A champion, finished 32-12 in its first year under head coach Travis Janssen. The Yellow Jackets will say farewell to six seniors, including three college signees to add to five signees among 2023 seniors.

Oxford’s semifinal run included a 12-inning, come-from-behind victory over Mountain Brook in Game 3 of their quarterfinal series.

“It was just unbelievable coming back and doing what we did this year,” senior shortstop/pitcher and Alabama signee Carter Johnson said. “The team came through a lot, and I just love how gritty our team was.”

The Yellow Jackets overcame key injuries. A hand injury took senior and Jacksonville State commit Hudson Gilman, a top bat in the middle of the order, out of the lineup at midseason. A back injury sidelined Jacksonville State commit Eli Bozeman, one of the team’s top returning pitchers.

Tide Gann, the No. 9 hitter in 2023, had to move into the five hole.

Outfielder’s Nick Richardson, a South Alabama commit, and R.J. Brooks, a Jacksonville State signee, had to assume larger pitching roles as Oxford sought to replace Alabama Mr. Baseball Hayes Harrison, Peyton Watts and other arms.

“I’m just so proud of where we’ve come,” Janssen said. “I think if things could’ve gone just right, possibly, we could’ve gone a little bit deeper. …

“In the last 30 games, we’ve had a lot happen. The fact that we made it to the final four of the state is something to be proud of.”

Oxford opened its semifinal series with a 10-0 victory in five innings, but Hartselle rebounded to win Game 2 5-3. Thursday’s rain forced Game 3 to move from Oxford High’s Bud McCarty Field to Rudy Abbott Field, on which Oxford clinched its 2023 state title while finishing an unbeaten postseason run.

Blackwood struck out seven batters while limiting Oxford to Forrest Heacock’s RBI single in the first inning and Gann’s infield single with two outs in the seventh.

Then came two run-scoring throwing errors, one in the top of the sixth inning and one in the seventh as Hartselle turned a 2-1 game into a 4-1 victory.

“We made some base-running mistakes, and we just made some uncharacteristic plays,” Janssen said. “When you make uncharacteristic plays in the postseason, it’s tough to win.

“In some ways, we showed some composure, because they absolutely juiced some balls. To think that they only scored four runs, and we were navigating traffic the entire game, so we were able to keep it small. We were just never could get anything going.”

Gilman, the starting pitcher, took the loss after spreading out four hits with four walks in four innings. Johnson, who had the sixth-inning throwing error, struck out three batters with three walks and allowed two hits and one earned run in two innings.

“We didn’t come through with what we wanted to do, but we had a hell of a season,” said Heacock, the senior catcher and Snead State Community College signee who had eight RBIs in the Hartselle series. “We played great.”

Oxford players embrace after the Yellow Jackets fell to Hartselle 4-1 in Game 3 of their Class 6A state final series Thursday on Rudy Abbott Field. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Oxford players embrace after the Yellow Jackets fell to Hartselle 4-1 in Game 3 of their Class 6A state final series Thursday on Rudy Abbott Field. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Photo gallery by Joe Medley

Oxford starting pitcher Hudson Gilman lets fly during Thursday’s Game 3 of the Yellow Jackets’ Class 6A semifinal series on Jacksonville State University’s Rudy Abbott Field.
Oxford’s Forrest Heacock delivers an RBI single in the first inning of Thursday’s Game 3 of the Yellow Jackets’ Class 6A semifinal series on Jacksonville State University’s Rudy Abbott Field.
Oxford’s Judd Syer scores on Forrest Heacock’s RBI single during Thursday’s Game 3 of the Yellow Jackets’ Class 6A semifinal series on Jacksonville State University’s Rudy Abbott Field.
Oxford’s Tide Gann heads to first base on his infield single in the seventh inning of Thursday’s Game 3 of the Yellow Jackets’ Class 6A semifinal series on Jacksonville State University’s Rudy Abbott Field.
Oxford’s Carter Johnson pitches against Hartselle during Thursday’s Game 3 of the Yellow Jackets’ Class 6A semifinal series on Jacksonville State University’s Rudy Abbott Field.
Oxford catcher Forrest Heacock talks to pitcher Carter Johnson during Thursday’s Game 3 of the Yellow Jackets’ Class 6A semifinal series on Jacksonville State University’s Rudy Abbott Field.
Oxford right-fielder Tide Gann makes a catch at the fence during Thursday’s Game 3 of the Yellow Jackets’ Class 6A semifinal series on Jacksonville State University’s Rudy Abbott Field.
Oxford second baseman Reid Maniscalco makes a throw to first baseman Canaan Whitman during Thursday’s Game 3 of the Yellow Jackets’ Class 6A semifinal series on Jacksonville State University’s Rudy Abbott Field.
Oxford coach Travis Janssen talks to umpires during Thursday’s Game 3 of the Yellow Jackets’ Class 6A semifinal series on Jacksonville State University’s Rudy Abbott Field.
Oxford coach Travis Janssen talks to the Yellow Jackets after their 4-1 loss to Hartselle in Thursday’s Game 3 of their Class 6A semifinal series on Jacksonville State University’s Rudy Abbott Field.

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