Photo: Etowah High’s Briggs Freeman scores a fifth-inning run during the Blue Devils’ 3-0 victory over Hamilton in the Class 4A state baseball semifinals last Wednesday (May 11) in Attalla. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
The Etowah High baseball program’s 26-year state championship series drought ended last Wednesday (May 11) at Larry Foster Field.
The Blue Devils (28-12) swept Hamilton, 5-4 and 3-0, in the Class 4A state semifinals to qualify for the best-of-three state title series for the first time since the 1996 season. Etowah faces Mobile Christian on Tuesday, May 17 in Oxford. The series moves to Jacksonville State on Wednesday for Game 2 and an if-necessary Game 3.
“This really was a total team effort,” said Etowah head baseball coach Blake Bone. “We have so many guys who have accepted their roles, whether it’s playing defense or pinch-running or pitching. So may guys contributed today and helped out in so many ways. These guys have been willing to do whatever we’ve asked them to do since Day 1, which I think is what has propelled us to where we are right now. I couldn’t be prouder of these guys and what they’ve accomplished.”
Caleb Freeman was the man of the hour in Game 2 against Hamilton. The junior lefthander limited the Aggie lineup two hits and three walks while fanning 12. Out of 101 pitches, Freeman had 62 strikes. Only a pitch count limit in the bottom of the seventh prevented Freeman from going the distance. With runners on first and second with two outs, reliever Trace Thompson induced groundout to shortstop Hunter Humphries to complete the sweep.
“I felt like I could have kept going but the pitch county got up on me,” said Freeman, who pitched an inning of relief in the opener. “After getting beat in the first round last year, it feels awesome to get to the state championship game. But we’ve still got some unfinished business. Our goal since the start of the season was winning the state championship. That’s all anybody from around here wants. Two more wins and we can hold up the blue map.”
Freeman retired the side in order in the first, third, fifth and sixth innings while allowing only five baserunners. Hamilton’s best opportunity to score came in the bottom of the seventh, when the Aggies had runners on second and third with two outs. But Freeman fanned the next batter to escape trouble. Freeman then retired 11 of the next 12 batters.
“I can’t say enough about what Caleb brings to the team,” said Etowah head coach Blake Bone. “He’s been so good for us all year on the mound, especially in the playoffs. The guts and grit that he showed on the mound tonight tells you a lot about his character.
“Caleb’s a constant competitor. That the guy you want with the ball in his hand in any situation. He also plays an incredible centerfield and brings so much to the table offensively and on the bases.”
Freeman received all the support he would need in the top of the second when Andrew Pierce tripled and scored on Thompson’s flyout to centerfield. Hamilton starter Payton Purser kept the hosts off the scoreboard until the fifth, when Briggs Freeman singled and scored on Boatwright’s double. The Blue Devils added some insurance the next inning when Caleb Freeman tripled and scored on another RBI flyout by Thompson.
Etowah had to stage a late rally in Game 1 to come away with the win. Down 4-0 in the bottom of the fifth, the Blue Devils drew within three runs when Humphries drew a lead-off walk and later scored on Briggs Freeman’s single. Freeman and Boatwright both scored off errors later in the innings to make it 4-3, and Caleb Freeman’s RBI base hit tied the game.
Reliever Benn Lovell sent down the Aggies in order in the top of the sixth, setting the stage for Boatwright’s eventual game-winning RBI dou-ble in the bottom of the inning.
“Braden’s a guy who hardly played at all at the beginning of the season,” said Bone. “But he kept working and working and believed in himself, and it’s paid off. He’s was a big contributor today. We tell our kids to work hard and be selfless and their time will come. Braden’s time has come, and he’s exceeded all of our expectations.”
After issuing a lead-off walk in the top of the seventh, Caleb Freeman recorded a fly out and a pair of strikeouts to end the game.
Briggs Freeman went 2-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored, while Boatwright had a hit, and RBI and a run scored. Jameson Scissum earned the win, allowing five hits, two earned runs and five walks while fanning three.
“From the players to the coaching staff to the trainers, we’ve been working for a long time to get to the point where we are right now,” said Bone. “The guys on our staff are incredible and make my job a while lot easier. Then there’s all the community support; there’s so many people involved in this to make it work, and see it pay off is really special. We’ve been talking all week about the Blue Devil Nation coming out and seeing how that atmosphere affects the other team.”
Bone’s last state championship series was 11 years ago when his 2011 Southside team lost to Spanish Fort.
“It shows that you can’t take these things for granted,” he said. “It’s been a while and shows you how tough it is to get there. You’ve got to catch some breaks along with the way and get hot at the right time. It’s very special, and it will be even more special if we can finish it off next week.”