By Lee Davis
After the first game of the Class 7A baseball championship at Montgomery’s Paterson Field, the Hoover Bucs looked finished.
They had fallen to a strong Auburn team 9-6 in the first game and had to sweep Saturday’s series against the Tigers to claim the title, and everyone knows that beating a good team twice in one day is a difficult task.
One positive for Hoover was a change of scenery. The second and third games would be played across town at Riverwalk Stadium, but the Bucs had one more ace in their hole: an undying belief in themselves.
After the opening loss, Hoover held a players-only meeting in one of their hotel rooms.
“We met in our room,” pitcher-infielder Garrett Farquhar said. “We knew we didn’t play our best game (in game one) but had confidence that we could come back.”
Whatever Farquhar knew, he should take it to the bank.
The Bucs rallied impressively, sweeping the Tigers 4-0 and 6-5 to win their school’s first baseball championship since 2008.
“I think it’s the strength of this group,” Hoover coach Adam Moseley said after it was all over. “You always hear about team chemistry, but this team really had it. These guys did more team chemistry stuff on their own than I ever could have thought up. It’s the closest team I have ever coached.”
Closeness counted. So did the arm of Brock Guffey. The senior pitcher, who finished 11-0 for the season, saved his best performance for the playoffs, pitching a complete-game two-hit shutout of Auburn. Guffey struck out 11 batters.
Hoover’s best offensive thrust of the game came in the third inning, when Brandon Agsalud’s single drove in two runs to give the Bucs a 3-0 advantage.
Guffey offered heroics in the final game as well. He came in as late inning relief, allowing three hits and two runs but turning back Auburn’s last bid for victory. Afterward, Guffey admitted he was tired.
“Mentally I knew I could do it, but physically I was a little worn out,” he said. “But I told coach Moseley that I’d go out there whenever and however he wanted me to pitch. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a rain storm, lying down on the mound, whatever.”
Moseley said the decision to bring Guffey back to pitch was simple. “He had the best pitching season ever at Hoover, so who else would you want on the mound at the end of a championship game,” he explained.
Most of the Bucs’ offense came early in the contest. Sonny DiChiara’s single scored Farquhar in the first inning. The big explosion came in the third, as Hoover scored five runs. DiChiara doubled, and Farquhar beat the tag to score another run. Later DiChiara scored on a passed ball to open up a 3-0 lead. Drew Guffey’s single scored Agsalud to lift the margin to 4-0.
After an Auburn pitching change, Ty Robinson hit a pitch to the wall that scored two Hoover runs for a 6-0 lead.
The Tigers staged a furious rally in the seventh to cut the lead to 6-5, and they had Rowdy Jordan on first base as the potential tying run. Then Hoover catcher Max Garvey made a titanic play. When a Buc pitch hit the dirt, Garvey picked up the ball and threw it to first base, where Drew Guffey picked off Jordan.
“It might have been the best play I’ve seen all year,” Moseley said. “That’s what it takes to win at this level. It was an unbelievable play.”
Brock Guffey struck out the next batter, but his curveball hit the dirt. He made the throw to earn the game’s final out.
“I’m just happy to have the opportunity to get here,” Farquhar said. “It was a blessing to be here.”
All of the Hoover players – especially the 13 seniors – could say the same thing. As a town celebrated a baseball state championship, it also paid tribute to a group of young men who simply refused to lose.