By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
The Hokes Bluff High School baseball team cut a wide path of destruction on the way to the first-place trophy of the Etowah County Schools Tournament last Saturday (March 30) in Sardis City.
In 10 innings over a two-game span, the Class 4A No. 1 Eagles (14-2) steamrolled the opposition by a 38 to 3 scoring margin en route to their second straight county title. Hokes Bluff posted a 17-1 semifinal victory over West End before dispatching Sardis, 21-2, in the championship.
After spotting the host Lions a 2-0 lead in the top of the first in the title game, Hokes Bluff batted around the order in each of the following three innings, tagging three Sardis pitchers for 16 hits in the process.
“We played well earlier in the week and I thought we might have a letdown today, but we hit the ball extremely well today, and I’m proud of our guys,” said Hokes Bluff head coach Mike Robertson. “I think we made some good adjustments at the plate, and I compliment [assistant coaches] Jake Ball and Brandon Bearden on what they’ve done with our hitters.”
Robertson pointed to senior centerfielder and leadoff hitter Carson Eubanks as a key to the win. Against Sardis, Eubanks went 3-for-3 with two RBI and four runs scored.
“Carson’s been doing that at the top of the order for us over the past four years. When he gets on base, things happen. He just has that aggressive attitude of running the bases.”
As the visiting team in the title game, Sardis (9-7) drew first blood when Connor Morris’ one-double plated Luke Morris and Trey Hubbard. Teague got out of the inning with consecutive strikeouts, however, and the Lions did advance a runner past first base the rest of the game. Following Morris’ hit, Teague, Payton Lemons and Houston Edwards limited the hosts to one hit and two baserunners while striking out 12.
“Pitching wise, we got to get in both Dylan and Payton, so that helped us a lot,” said Robertson. “Plus, Caleb McGinnis pitched a really good game [against West End].”
Eubanks kicked off the Eagles’ hit parade with a triple in the bottom of the first. He soon scored on a base hit by Drake Rainey, and respective RBI singles by Edwards, Hunter Burke, Clay Rainey and Jackson Fielding – along with a two-run double from Teague – gave Hokes Bluff an 8-2 lead.
The Eagles scored three runs off a pair of Sardis errors in the second, and Burke stroked a two-run double to help make it 15-2.
Hokes Bluff continued to pour it on in the third. Edwards, Drake Rainey, Burke, Clay Rainey and Lemons all drove in at least one run as the Eagles tacked on another six runs. After issuing a leadoff walk in the top of the fifth, Edwards fanned the next three batters to end the game on the 10-run mercy rule.
“Leading off for this team is pretty easy, because once you get on base, you’ve got a bunch of big guys behind you that can knock you in,” said Eubanks. “It gives us the confidence to keep an inning going, and that’s all you need to win games. You only get four tries (to win the county tournament championship), so it means a lot to win it two years in a row.”
Roberson pointed out that the Lions had 20 minutes to get ready to play in the title game following a three-and-a-half-hour semifinal game against Southside that saw Sardis edge the Panthers, 10-9, in 10 innings.
“I give Sardis credit; they battled hard after that game, which maybe took a little bit out of them. Obviously, they had to use more pitching [against Southside] that they thought they would need to.”
In opening round action on March 29, West End beat Glencoe, 16-8, in five innings while Southside defeated Gaston, 17-2, in five innings.