By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
It’s safe to say that the Hokes Bluff High School baseball team’s season would not have lasted as long as it did if not for the contributions of the Eagles’ junior catcher.
On a team stacked with a number of standout players, Houston Edwards stood out while thriving in the clean-up spot in the batting order and handling the team’s pitching staff. He helped Hokes Bluff post a 28-8 record (including a 9-3 mark in the postseason) and make it to the Class 4A state championship series for the first time in 10 years. It also led to Edwards being named the MVP of the 2018 All-Messenger baseball team.
Edwards finished the season with 43 hits, 34 RBI, nine runs, eight doubles, five home runs a .398 batting average and a .611 slugging percentage.
“Houston’s just a good all-around player,” said Hokes Bluff head baseball coach Mike Robertson. “Offensively, he had so many big hits for us when we needed them, especially in the playoffs. He’s always hit with power, but this season he became a much better contact hitter and a smarter hitter. I give (assistant coaches) Jake Ball and Brandon Bearden credit for helping Houston make those adjustments.”
Robertson noted that Edwards’ defense was just as important as his offensive numbers.
“Houston does a good job of framing pitches and blocking pitches and doing what we ask our catchers to do. In the playoffs, he caught all of those Friday doubleheaders, which is close to 500 times he had to squat down. So, he had to carry that burden of physicality on his shoulders, which to me is a big part of being a catcher.”
Joining Edwards from Hokes Bluff on the first team are junior pitcher Dy-lan Teague, freshman pitcher Payton Lemons, senior first baseman Landon Johnson and junior outfielder Carson Eubanks.
As the ace of the Eagle staff, Teague went 11-3 with a 1.11 earned run average while striking out 70 and issuing just 13 earned runs in 81.1 innings. He did not lose a game during the state playoffs was the lone Eagle pitcher to win a game against Andalusia in the state finals.
Despite his youth, Lemons came up big when it counted. In Game 2 of the state finals, he limited the Bulldogs to four hits while striking out seven in six innings in s 2-1 loss. In 31 innings overall, Lemons went 4-0 with 25 strikeouts and a 1.55 ERA.
A pair of Westbrook Christian hurlers played a big part in the Warriors’ 27-9 record, area championship and berth in the Class 2A state quarterfinals. In 46 innings, freshman Sam Dutton compiled a 5-2-1 record with 72 strikeouts and a 1.21 earned run average. He allowed only 28 hits and eight earned run over the course of the season. Senior Jordan Reynolds went 5-1-2 with a 1.40 ERA while fanning 62 and permitting just nine earned runs.
Joining Edwards on the first team infield are Johnson (.367 batting average, 33 hits 18 RBI), Coosa Christian senior second baseman Jackson Justus (.438 batting avg., 37 RBI, nine home runs), Westbrook senior shortstop Garret Kennedy (.438 batting avg., 46 hits, 52 runs scored, 24 RBI, 36 steals) and Westbrook senior third baseman
Cullen Stafford (.444 batting avg., 48 hits, 16 doubles, 47 RBI, 45 runs scored, three home runs).
Eubanks (.376 batting avg., 44 hits, 37 runs scored, 17 RBI), Etowah junior Jarren Wright (.431 bating avg., 44 hits, 36 runs scored, 23 RBI) and Sardis senior Jake Ross (.438 batting avg., 49 hits, 41 runs scored, 30 RBI, 10 doubles, 21 steals) make up the first team outfield.
Westbrook junior first baseman John Ross Morgan gets the nod at designated hitter by way of his .458 batting average, 33 hits, 39 runs scored and 31 RBI.
Hokes Bluff sophomore Caleb McGinnis and Etowah junior Will Hotalen made the second team as pitchers. McGinnis went 7-0-2 for the Eagles this past season while finishing with a 1.13 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 37 innings. Hotalen went 5-1 in 49 and two-third innings with an earned run average of 1.83 and 51 strikeouts.
The second team infield consists of Etowah senior David Rutledge at first base (.422 batting avg., 43 hits, 37 RBI, 24 runs scored, 17 doubles), West End senior Devan Tinsley at second base (.483 batting avg., 29 hits, 27 runs, 20 RBI, eight doubles), Hokes Bluff senior Weston Ball at shortstop (.269 batting avg., 29 hits, 30 runs scored, 21 RBI), Glencoe’s Bryan Benefield at third base (.345 batting avg., 20 RBI) and Westbrook junior Greyson Robinson at catcher (.453 batting avg., 29 hits, 32 RBI, 20 runs scored).
The second team outfield is made up of Hokes Bluff senior Jace Stewart (.344 batting avg., 33 hits, 28 RBI, 19 runs scored, 10 doubles), Sardis senior Kale Walker (.365 batting avg., 35 hits, 33 runs scored, 22 RBI) and West End senior Matthew Hood (.417 avg., 25 hits, 23 runs scored).
At designated hitter is Gadsden City senior Ryan Sparks, who finished the year with a .375 batting average and 30 RBI.