Photo: Hokes Bluff’s Houston Edwards connects for a hit during Etowah County Schools baseball tournament last Saturday (March 31) at Hokes Bluff. (Alex Chaney)
By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
Class 4A, No. 8 Hokes Bluff overcame an early deficit to capture its first Etowah County baseball championship since 2008 with a 4-1 victory over Southside last Saturday (March 31) at Estes/Wright Field in Hokes Bluff.
The Panthers (7-15) jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning after a leadoff base hit from Tyler Roberts. A sacrifice bunt from Jacob Little moved Roberts to second, and Sam Raines drove Roberts home on an RBI single off of Hokes Bluff pitcher Dylan Teague.
Southside pitcher Evan Edwards retired the side in the bottom of the first, and Teague followed suit in the top of the second.
The Hokes Bluff bats came alive in the bottom of the second inning after Houston Edwards blasted a leadoff double, and Teague helped his own cause on the mound by driving Edwards home two batters later to even the score at 1-1. Later in the inning, Landon Johnson drove home another run to give the Eagles a 2-1 advantage.
Hokes Bluff (13-4) struck again in the bottom of the third inning after another scoreless inning from Teague. With two outs and nobody on, Koby Addison drew a walk to prolong the inning. Edwards smashed another double to right centerfield, and the Eagles took a 3-1 lead into the fourth inning.
In the bottom of the fifth, Johnson and Weston Ball each had a pair of hits for the Eagles. Jace Stewart was hit by a pitch, which drove in Carson Eubanks and increased Hokes Bluffâ€™s lead to 4-1. Caleb McGinnis came on in relief of Teague in the sixth and seventh innings and shut down any chance of the Panthers making a comeback.
The win ended Southsideâ€™s dominant reign in the county baseball tournament over the last decade, and Hokes Bluff coach Mike Robertson earned his first county baseball championship as head coach of the Eagles.
â€œItâ€™s been a while since Hokes Bluff has won it,â€ Robertson said. â€œI thought we had a good chance this year. Iâ€™m really proud for our seniors.â€
Robertson said while winning the area is more important, he knew his team had an opportunity to win the county this year.
â€œI donâ€™t put goals on the wall. We just try to win the next game. Thatâ€™s always been my philosophy for 37 years as coach. Itâ€™s just win the next game. But I did tell them before the year started that I thought this was something we needed to try to do. We felt like we couldâ€™ve beat Southside a couple of times (in previous county tournament finals). A couple of times we kind of blew it.
â€œI was scared to death the last inning, Iâ€™m not going to lie to you. It was important. Area is the most important, but I wanted to win it as a coach. I really am thrilled we won.â€
Teague tossed five innings in the win, and he allowed three hits, one run and three walks while striking out two batters. McGinnis gave up two hits, two walks and struck out one batter in relief.
Edwards led the Eagles at the plate as he finished 2-for-3 with two doubles, but his most important work came from behind the plate. The catcher picked off two Southside players at first base, including one in the sixth inning that might have preserved a run.
Johnson went 2-for-3 for Hokes Bluff, while Ball and Drake Rainey had one hit each. Roberts, Raines, Connor Johnson, Gavin Griffin and Mason McGlaughn all had hits for the Panthers.
In the tournament semifinals earlier on Saturday, Hokes Bluff defeated Sardis, 2-1, while Southside beat Glencoe, 13-3, in five innings. On March 30, Sardis shut out West End, 10-0, while Glencoe beat Gaston, 13-3.
Both the Eagles and Panthers have critical area games upcoming this week. Hokes Bluff faces Jacksonville and Cherokee County, while Southside takes on Oxford as each team prepares to make a push towards the postseason.