By Lee Davis
The year 2008 was magical for Hoover baseball, as then-Bucs coach Rick Davis guided his team to its first state championship since old Berry High School turned the trick in 1981.
In the decade that followed, Hoover struggled through a long period of post-season disappointment. But the proverbial worm finally turned last weekend.
The Bucs swept two games from archrival Vestavia Hills to earn a place in the Class 7A finals. They will meet Auburn in Montgomery this weekend for the state title.
Hoover punched its ticket to the Capital City with a 3-1 win over the Rebels that took two days to complete. After the Bucs won the first game 9-8 in nine innings on Friday, Vestavia took an early 1-0 lead in game two. The threat of severe rain led to suspension of play in the fourth inning, and the game was resumed Saturday afternoon.
The winning rally came in the seventh inning. Drew Guffey’s single drove in two runs and Nolan Hammonds knocked in the third run with a long hit to centerfield.
“We haven’t lasted long in the playoffs the last couple of years,” Guffey said. “This senior class knew this was our time. Why couldn’t this be our year?”
Hoover may have gotten an inkling that 2017 could be its year after the first game of the best-of-three series. The Bucs rallied from an 8-3 deficit in the seventh inning to force extra innings.
Guffey’s single in the ninth inning started Hoover’s rally. Hammonds followed with a double to center. Peyton Wilson’s hit scored the winning run.
After the second victory, Guffey said the dramatic comeback win in game one was a sign that his team was special.
“When we were in the dugout trailing 8-3, we all kept saying that the Hoover Bucs weren’t finished,” he explained. “We believed and didn’t quit. There wasn’t a guy in the dugout that didn’t believe we’d find a way to win.”
Vestavia coach Jamie Harris was philosophical in defeat.
“We had our chances,” he said. “We made some plays, but not enough of them. We have nothing to hang our heads about. At one point in the season we were 5-8, and we picked ourselves up and made it to the semi-finals. We showed a lot of toughness and character in the last month of the season, and I’m very proud of our guys.”
Andrew Knight paced the Rebels with two hits. Griffin Lape, pitching three shutout innings, got the win for Hoover. He allowed only one hit.
“Comebacks in both games,” Hoover coach Adam Moseley said. “I’m just thankful. Very thankful.”
Defeating a traditional rival in an intense series with a possible state championship on the line is a lot for which to be thankful, but Hoover still has one more obstacle before scratching the nine-year itch.
If the Bucs still have an arsenal of late-inning heroics, they should be bringing home a blue trophy.