Photo: Etowah High’s Trace Thompson watches the flight of his three-run triple during the Blue Devils’ 9-3 victory over St. John Paul II Catholic in the Class 4A state baseball semifinals on Thursday, May 11, in Huntsville. (Courtesy of Anna Townsend)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
The Etowah High baseball team earned the opportunity to take care of some unfinished business last Thursday (May 11).
After finishing as the Class 4A state runner-up last season, the Blue Devils punched their ticket to a second straight berth in the state championship series after a semifinal sweep over St. John Paul II Catholic in Huntsville.
Etowah (28-11) face UMS-Wright this Tuesday (May 16) at 7 p.m. at Choccolocco Park in Oxford. Game 2 and an if-necessary Game 3 will be played at Jacksonville State starting at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, May 17.
“It’s really quite amazing what these guys have accomplished the past two years,” said Etowah head coach Blake Bone. “It’s hard enough to get [to the state championship series], and to follow it up and get back this year speaks volumes to the type of kids we have and the amount of work they’ve put in. But they all understand that it’s not over, and we had a quick celebration and started to prepare for UMS-Wright.”
After a lengthy rain delay of more than three hours, Etowah posted a 9-3 victory in the series opener on Wednesday, May10. The Blue Devils finished off the Falcons the following day with a 2-1 win.
Bone pointed to his team playing error-free ball as the biggest difference in the series.
“That was the best I’ve seen us do in a while in terms of defense. Not to take away anything from our arms, but we were just super-sharp defensively. We knew going in that [St. John Paull II] doesn’t strike out a whole lot and puts the ball into play, and we made play and after play in the field.”
Other than a shaky third inning during which SJPII scored three runs after loading the bases with no outs, Etowah starter Jameson Scissum kept the Falcon lineup in check with the help of three double plays, two of which ended the inning. He allowed only three hits over his final 3.1 innings before giving way in the seventh to Damon Devine, who retired three straight batters to secure the win.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is that [St. John Paull II] is a really good offensive team that scored a lot of runs coming into this series,” said Bone. “It might not show it in the stats, but in person, I really thought that this was Jameson’s best outing of the year. His velocity and his command of the game in really tough conditions was outstanding.”
The Blue Devils took the lead for good in the top of the first with Caleb Freeman’s two-out solo home run.
Etowah poured it on in the top of third. Humphrey bunted home Brant Stinger, Scissum worked a bases-loaded walk and Andrew Pierce singled in Humphreys for a 4-0 lead.
With two outs, Trace Thompson laced a triple in the rightfully gap, scoring Humphreys, Caleb Freeman and Thomas Farley for a seven-run advantage.
The Falcons did not score again after their three-run outburst in the third, and the Blue Devils tacked on pair of insurance runs later in the game. Pierce scored on Briggs Freeman’s sacrifice fly in the sixth, while Scissum’s base hit in the seventh plated Caleb Freeman.
Caleb Freeman went 2-for-3 with an RBI and three runs scored; Humphries went 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored; Pierce had a hit, an RBI and two runs scored; Scissum had a hit and two RBI and Briggs Freeman had a hit and an RBI.
Caleb Freeman effectively shut the door in Game 2 with a one-hit, seven-strikeout, five-walk performance in seven innings. He retired the side in order in the first, second and fifth innings.
“Caleb had a chip on his shoulder from the onset,” said Bone. “He was in constant command and hitting both sides of the plate and mixing in his fastball and curveball. Outside of that last inning, Caleb dominated from his first pitch of the game. He’s the guy you want on the mound when you need to finish off a series.”
The Blue Devils took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when Humphries reached base on a fielder’s choice, stole second and scored on Slade St. Clair’s base hit. Etowah made it 2-0 in the third when Christian Morrison scored on an error.
SJPII starter Luke Songy limited the Blue Devils to three hits over the last three innings. The Falcons drew within a run in the top of the sixth when Paul Andrzejewski scored on an error, but Freeman finished off the Falcons in the top of the seventh by fanning the final two batters he faced.
St. Clair went 3-for-3 with an RBI.
“This really it was a great team effort,” said Bone. “I think this group wants it as bad as I want it, which sometimes isn’t the case. The good thing is that I think we’ll have a pretty good home field advantage in Oxford and at JSU next week.”