Cavaliers hit road for playoff test
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
Under long-time coach Dusty Hubbard, the Callaway Cavaliers usually find a way to hang around for a while in the state playoffs.
The Cavaliers (19-9) have made numerous deep playoff runs during Hubbard’s 16-year tenure, and they were in the state semifinals in 2018 and 2019.
While the players change, the way of doing things has remained consistent, and almost without exception, the results have been there year after year.
“We play with a philosophy and stick to it, and you have some continuity (coaching-wise),” said Hubbard, who has more than 300 wins during his time leading the program. “I’d love to have a team where you don’t have to do some of the small stuff, but we’ve very seldom been blessed with that. We’ve had to play a certain way, and put an emphasis on pitching and defense, and I think that ultimately wins in the playoffs.”
That worked out for the Cavaliers in the first round.
Facing Union County last week, Callaway won the first game 6-0 behind the brilliant pitching of Justin Moore before winning the second game 3-2.
Callaway earned a spot in the round of 16 of the Class AA playoffs, and it will be on the road against Pepperell on Tuesday, weather permitting.
They’ll play a doubleheader on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m., and if needed, a third and deciding game would be on Wednesday.
Callaway earned its spot at state by finishing second in Region 5-AA, while Pepperell won the Region 7-AA championship.
In the playoffs, Pepperell beat Washington 13-0 and 12-1 to punch its ticket to the second round.
While the Cavaliers will have to face a formidable opponent, they’ll also be on the road while dealing with some possible weather delays.
“It’ll take great pitching, great defense, and it’s going to take some timely hitting,” Hubbard said. “They know that, we know that. And we’re going to have to do it on the road while battling the conditions. Whenever it’s time to play ball, we’ve got to be ready to play.”
Moore, a hard-throwing junior right-hander, will likely be on the mound for game one against Pepperell, and that could be good news for Callaway.
In the opening round against Union County, Moore was untouchable, throwing a seven-inning, two-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts.
Bryce Hubbard had two hits with a clutch RBI single, and Tucker Starling also had an RBI.
Andrew Locke and Jacob Miles each had a hit, CJ Stephens and Starling reached on walks, and Eli Freeman was hit by a pitch.
In game two, Starling got the start, and he threw six solid innings before giving way to Moore, who worked a perfect seventh inning to finish it.
The Cavaliers were limited to two hits, but they still managed to score four runs.
The game was tied at 3-3 when the Cavaliers pushed a run across in the top of the seventh inning.
Starling reached on an error leading off, and after moving up to second when Moore was hit by a pitch, he scored when the ball went into the outfield on an errant pickoff attempt.
When Union County’s outfielders had trouble corralling the ball, Starling was able to score easily to give Callaway the lead.
“He never slowed down,” Hubbard said of Starling. “You’re always thinking a base ahead, and he did. I don’t think one of them booted it. They had a communication problem and neither one of them picked it up, and he kept running.”
It was the sort of situation the Cavaliers are almost always prepared for.
“I tell them 90 percent of the stuff we practice is not for a 9-2 game, it’s for a close game in the playoffs,” Hubbard said. “That’s where you win or lose.”
Miles added an RBI single to get the Cavaliers on the board in the top of the fourth inning, Kaden Rogers walked twice and scored a run, and Moore walked and was hit by a pitch.
Also, Jimmie Dukes, Locke, and Blake Sheppard each found a way on base by getting hit by pitches.
While hits were hard to come by against some gifted Union County pitchers, Callaway did enough offensively.
“I felt like in both games we had a situation where we got a big hit,” Hubbard said. “Bryce got one in the first game, and Miles got one in the second game.”
Outside of the two RBI hits, the Cavaliers scored their runs in a variety of ways, including five runs on passed balls or wild pitches in game one.
“We talk so much about having to win the freebie war,” Hubbard said. “They made a couple of errors, they gave us some walks, some passed balls, wild pitches, and that’s how we’re going to have to win.”
CALLAWAY VS. PEPPERELL
WHEN: Tuesday, 1:30 p.m.; Wednesday (if needed)
WHAT: Second round of Class AA state playoffs
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Callaway (19-9) finished second in Region 5-AA and beat Union County in the first round of the playoffs; Pepperell (22-10) finished first in Region 7-AA and beat Washington in the first round of the playoffs
UP NEXT: The winner will face Dodge County or Thomasville in the third round