Photo: Etowah High’s Will Hotalen (14) slides into second base as Jasper’s Pacey Gillott looks on during the teams’ Class 5A first round baseball series this past week in Jasper. (Courtesy of Daily Mountain Eagle)
By Jonathan Bentley/Daily Mountain Eagle
Etowah High’s Logan Lafollette came within one strike of a no-hitter as the Blue Devils ended Jasper’s season with a 6-0 shutout in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs last Monday (Apr. 22) in Jasper.
No. 7 Etowah (24-11) hosts Boaz in a second-round series starting this Friday (Apr. 26).
The teams split the first two games of the series last Saturday (Apr. 20), with the third-ranked Vikings (25-10) dropping the first game 2-0 and winning the second game 2-1. In the three-game series, both teams totaled nine hits.
“That was as good a high school baseball series as you’ll ever want to see,” said Etowah head coach Brandon Johnson. “I thought both sides played really well. We got dynamic pitching in all three games and probably made only one error in the series on defense, so I’m very proud of the kids “Jasper’s a very good team and that didn’t seem like a first-round game. That was a really tough draw for us and our kids came out and responded. It was a great team win, for sure.”
On Monday, Lafollette walked two and gave up a single to Tyler Thomasson with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning.
“Our plan was to go five innings with Logan and have some guys lined up in the bullpen because it was so hot. But at the end of the fifth inning I found that Logan had only thrown 49 pitches, so we kept him in there. When you have a high school pitcher who has command of three pitches, it’s going to be a long day for the other team’s hitters. [Jasper] was super-aggressive at the plate and [Lafollette] had a lot of first-pitch outs. He only had about one strikeout, so we were able to make some plays behind him.”
Etowah broke through with a run in the third inning and added runs in both the fifth and sixth innings for a 3-0 lead. The Blue Devils took advantage of a pair of Jasper errors in the top of the seventh to add three more runs.
“We talked before the game about jumping out to an early lead and putting some pressure on [Jasper],” said Johnson. “When you get behind like that, especially in a Game 3, it’s easy to add pressure on yourself.”
Jasper held Etowah to just three hits in the game, all by Will Hotalen. The senior drove in at least one run in all three of his at-bats and finished with a double and four RBI. He also drew a walk.
Jasper starter Zac Durham lasted two and two-third innings. He hit two batters and issued a walk. Seth Davidson entered the game with two outs and the bases loaded. He inherited a 2-0 count but got out of the jam with a strikeout.
Etowah broke through with a two-out single by Hotalen in the third inning. Austin Young came around to score.
In the fourth, Hunter Smalley drove in Chris Griffin with a sacrifice fly after an error allowed Griffin to take third base. Hotalen struck again in the fifth, driving in Young with a second RBI single for a 3-0 lead.
In the seventh, Hotalen drove in two runs with a bases-loaded double down the left field line, scoring Jarren Wright and Young. The final run scored on a fielder’s choice.
Young scored three runs in the game for the Blue Devils.
Davidson took the loss, allowing three runs, two earned, on three walks and one hit with three strikeouts. Topher Wilson went the final three innings, giving up three unearned runs on two hits and one walk with two strikeouts.
Johnson said that the series’ rescheduling from Friday to Saturday and then playing the third game on Monday ultimately benefitted his team.
“It’s close to a two-hour bus ride [to Jasper], and our kids would have been tired from a double header on Friday to having to go back up there the next day. We were able to rest on Sunday and regroup a little bit.”
Jasper and Etowah combined for just five runs in the two games on Saturday (Apr. 20), with each picking up a win in a pair of pitcher’s duels.
In game one, Etowah scored two runs in the first inning and made the lead stand. The Blue Devils started the game with a pair of singles. After a sacrifice moved the runners up one base,
Wright scored on a balk for the first run. Hotalen then drove in Young with a single.
Jasper had scoring chances. The Vikings had two runners in scoring position in the fourth inning with two outs, and Durham led off the sixth with a double. Both times Hotalen got out of the jam. In a complete-game effort, Hotalen allowed four hits and two walks while striking out seven. He helped his cause with a hit and an RBI. Wright and Young each went 1-for-2 with a run scored.
Parker Sawyer took the loss, giving up both runs on three hits and four walks with four strikeouts in six innings.
After a 12-inning scoreless drought, Jasper got off the mat with two runs in the top of the sixth inning in game 2.
Ryan Willcutt singled and pinch runner Peyton Thomasson scored on a three-base error for the 1-0 lead. Three batters later, Slade Harbin belted a home run to leftfield, making the score 2-0.
Etowah loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the inning, with Young scoring when Will Noles was hit by a pitch. The next batter hit a fly ball to leftfield to end the threat.
Tyler Thomasson retired the Blue Devils in order in the seventh inning. He went the distance, allowing one earned run on three hits and a walk with two strikeouts.
Etowah’s Kam Wilson also went seven innings in picking up the hard-luck loss. He gave up two earned runs on four hits with seven strikeouts. At the plate for the Blue Devils, Young went 1-for-3 with a run scored, Noles went 1-for-2 with an RBI and DeRickey Wright went 1-for-3.
Johnson was proud of his team for bouncing back from a tough best-of-three series for the area championship against Southside that ultimately saw the Panthers win in the deciding third game.
“A coach from Virginia made a comment that said, ‘Adversity can buy you a ticket to a place where you otherwise couldn’t have gone.’ I shared it with our kids and I think that kind of motivated them [after two straight losses to Southside]. We knew that the only way to get over that loss was to go out and win, and they accomplished that.”
Johnson is well aware that the Blue Devils will have their hands full with the Pirates on Friday.
“They’ve played a tough schedule and can really swing the bat and put up a lot of runs. So we’ve going to have to score some runs in this series. We feel good about our pitching and defense, and our goal is to score seven runs a game. If we can do that, I think we’ll be okay.”
Messenger Publisher/Editor Chris McCarthy contributed to this article.