Good Arm, Good Bat: Aiken leads Bears into 2A quarterfinals


Sometimes as a pitcher, you have to help yourself out at the plate.

Woodlawn junior J.P. Aiken did that, and then some, on Friday afternoon at Taylor Field.

Aiken tossed four-plus scoreless innings and accounted for four runs in the third-seeded Bears’ 5-0 win over No. 2 seed Marked Tree in the first round of the 2A state tournament.

“J.P. threw well for four innings,” Woodlawn head coach Tommy Richardson said. “He probably could have gotten out of the fifth, but we’ve got plenty of arms.

“At the plate, he had a great ballgame. He hit a BB to center, hit one really well but to the deepest part of the park and then dropped one into the outfield knowing he has going to get a breaking ball. Then he showed some hustle on that ball that got by the catcher.”

With the game scoreless in the top of the third, Woodlawn (29-5) staged its first of three two-out rallies.

After a lineout and strikeout, catcher Colton Williams walked and was lifted for courtesy runner Chandler Mercer. Jacob Richardson was hit by a pitch to put two runners on base, and Aiken followed with an absolute bullet at center fielder Bailey Gilbert.

“At first I thought he had it,” Aiken said, “because I hit it right to him.

“But once it got by him I was thinking three the whole time. I knew I just had to be aggressive.”

Aiken did reach third base on the play as Mercer and Richardson both came in to score and give Woodlawn a 2-0 lead.

Aiken struggled at times on the mound admitting he had trouble spotting his fastball, but worked out of trouble in the first and third innings.

After the first two batters for Marked Tree (17-12) reached in the fifth, Aiken was replaced by Taylor Stitt but stayed in the game as the DH.

Stitt worked out of the jam with two strikeouts sandwiched around a fielder’s choice forceout at third base.

“He did a great job,” coach Richardson said of Stitt escaping the jam. “That first out was a big one, because we knew they were going to try and bunt.

“To be able to get us out of that, that was the difference in the ballgame.”

Aiken, who allowed just one hit and struck out six, said he had confidence Stitt could work out of the tight spot.

“I couldn’t ask for a better reliever,” he said. “He came in and threw a lot of strikes.

“I’m really proud of him.”

Stitt finished off the last three innings, allowing just one hit and striking out three. The junior’s job got a lot easier when the Bears tacked on runs in the sixth and seventh innings.

Once again, it was two-out rallies that helped plate the insurance runs.

Caleb Holleman and Jayden Fultz reached after Indians pitcher Brody McCrary, who suffered the complete-game loss, retired the first two batters.

Woodlawn pinch hitter Brady Graves came through with a clutch single to plate Holleman and give the Bears some breathing room.

“Well, three is better than two,” coach Richardson said with a laugh, “and four is better than three and five is better than four.

“With each one you get to breath a little easier.”

In Woodlawn’s last at-bat, Aiken made sure his coach could breathe easier heading into the bottom of the seventh.

After Richardson drew a two-out walk, Aiken crushed a pitch foul down the left-field line that easily cleared the fence. He came back, though, with a bloop single into shallow right field to plate his third run of the day.

“I had adjust,” he said of the plate appearance. “After I hit one out but foul, I knew I couldn’t try and do it again.

“I just had to try and get some RBIs to help my team.”

Aiken later scored all the way from second on a wild pitch to finish off his 2-for-4 day in style.

“I saw the ball down,” he said. “Coach told me to hold up but I thought I could make it, and I did.”

The Bears will face Palestine-Wheatley, which beat Union Christian 7-6 in eight innings on Friday, in the quarterfinals at noon Saturday at Woodlawn High School.

“We just got to play ball,” Aiken said of facing the No. 1 seed from the East. “We’re playing with a lot of confidence right now.

“We just need to stay hungry.”