Photo: Etowah’s Cash Hayes dives back to first base during a pickoff attempt as West Morgan’s Cole Wallace receives the throw during the Blue Devils’ first round sweep in the Class 4A state baseball playoffs on Friday, April 21 in Attalla. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
The 2022 Class 4A state baseball runner-up opened the 2023 postseason in fine fashion on Friday, April 21.
A pair of standout pitching performances along with sparkling defense propelled Etowah to a 4-0, 10-0 sweep over West Morgan in Attalla.
“When your pitchers throw strikes and the guys behind them are not letting anything through, you’ll always have a chance to win,” said Etowah head coach Blake Bone. “When you know your defense behind you is not going to make a mistake, it makes a pitcher that much more confident. Things like dropped fly balls and missed cutoffs, combined with a cheap hit, can really cost you, and we take pride in getting the job done on defense.”
In six innings, Game 1 starter Caleb Freeman scattered four hits and three walks while striking out five. After escaping a bases-loaded jam in the top of the first, Freeman allowed two hits and four baserunners, only one of which advanced past second.
“That’s kind of been Caleb’s M.O. all year,” said Bone. “The first inning isn’t what you’d draw it up to be, but when he settles in, he’s as good as anybody out there. Caleb’s been in those situations before, so he’s not going to get rattled if things don’t go his way at first.”
Freeman received all the support needed in the bottom of the third when Christian Morrison scored on Cash Hayes’ base hit.
The Blue Devils made it 3-0 the following inning when Caleb Freeman scored off an error and Jameson Scissum doubled home Slade St. Clair. Etowah added some insurance with Brant Stringer’s RBI single in the sixth. Damon Devine pitched a scoreless top of the seventh to secure the win.
In Game 2, Scissum took up where Freeman left off. In five innings, Scissum limited the Rebels to two hits and two walks while fanning eight. None of West Morgan’s four baserunners advanced past second.
“That might have been Jameson’s best performance of the year,” said Bone. “He was really sharp and had all three of his pitches working. He was throwing his fastballs to both sides of the plate and throwing his curveball for strikes, and when he got two strikes, his slider was pretty much unhittable. That was as good as you’d want from Jameson in a playoff game. He had a long basketball season and is just now rounding into top baseball shape, so he’s reaching his peak at about the right time.”
After going down in order in the top of the first, the Blue Devils took the lead for good on Scissum’s RBI sacrifice fly in the second inning. A three-run third innings featured Stringer scoring on an error and respective RBI sacrifice fly from Hunter Humphries and Caleb Freeman.
Dax Causey, Trace Thompson, Brodie Bennett, Briggs Freeman and Hayes all scored in the top of the fourth to make it 10-0, and Scissum retired the side in order in the bottom of the fifth to end the game on the mercy rule and complete the sweep.
For the series, Scissum went 2-for-2 with a double and three RBI; Stringer went 2-for-4 with a double, three RBI and a run scored and Hayes went 2-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored.
“We didn’t really kill the ball, but we did the little things as far as getting runners in from third [base] with the sac flys. I thought our situational hitting was good and that we had very competitive at-bats throughout the day.
The Blue Devils (22-11) host Corner in a second-round series this Friday, April 28. Games 1 and 2 are scheduled for 5 and 7:30 p.m., respectively, while an if-necessary third game will be played at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
Etowah lost to Corner, 13-3, on March 17.
“They threw their No. 1 [pitcher] at us, and that was at a point in the year when we were playing really bad,” said Bone. “But they didn’t see (Freeman and Scissum) pitch, so we’re a different team and we like our chances. I think that our preparation during the week will be the most important thing. If we’re able to prepare the right way, we’ll go out there free mentally and free physically come Friday and take care of business.”