Blue Devils make it to state baseball semifinals

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Messenger file photo by Chris McCarthy

By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor

For the first time in 26 years, Etowah will compete in the Final Four in the state baseball playoffs.
The Blue Devils (26-12) advanced to the Class 4A state semifinals following a 12-2, 9-1 quarterfinal sweep over Jacksonville on May 5. Etowah hosts Hamilton this Wednesday, May 11, in Attalla at 5 and 7:30 p.m. An if-necessary third game is scheduled for Thursday, May 12 at 4:30 p.m.
EHS head coach Blake Bone reiterated that his team had one goal in mind when the season started. The Blue Devils are four wins away from said goal.
“It was very important for us to get Etowah baseball back to where it was, and we’re getting there,” he said. “I felt before the season that we had a group of guys to go all the way. A lot of things had to go right during the course of the season for us to make it here, and our guys have done a tremendous job of trusting the process. We’re one step closer, and hopefully we can finish what we started.”
Etowah led in every inning against Jacksonville while holding the Golden Eagles to 10 hits, all of them singles. The Blue Devils ran roughshod over the JHS pitching staff with 19 steals.
“There’s probably five or six guys in our lineup who are green-light runners,” said Bone.
“They’ve all got a good understanding of when it’s time to run and what to do in key situations.
It’s kind of fun to watch the pressure they put on the other team. Playing fast and stealing bases are definitely important to our success.”
In the opener, pitchers Jameson Scissum, Ben Lovell, Damon Devin and Andrew Pierce limited Jacksonville to six hits, three walks with two strikeouts. The Golden Eagles did not help their cause by committing eight errors, six of which led to Etowah runs.
Caleb Freeman’s home run over the leftfield wall and Trace Thompson’s RBI double in the top of the first inning staked the Blue Devils to an early lead, while Briggs Freeman, Bodie Bennett and Devine scored in the second to make it 5-0.
In the third, Hunter Humphries stole second and third base and scored on a fielder’s choice. Pierce’s RBI double highlighted a four-run fourth inning that stretched the Etowah lead to 10-1.
Caleb Freeman and Brady Carver scored in the sixth and seventh, respectively, to secure the Game 1 win.
Freeman (pictured above stealing second base) went 1-for-3 with two RBI and three runs scored; Trace Thompson went 2-or-3 with an RBI; Andrew Pierce had a hit, an RBI and two runs scored; Bodie Bennet had a hit, an RBI and two runs scored; and Briggs Freeman had a hit, an RBI and a run scored.
“We’re swinging the bats pretty good right now, for the most part,” said Bone. “We’re going to face a pretty good lefty in Game 1 [against Hamilton], so hopefully we can get some hits and get a few baserunners on board early on.”
Game 2 starter and winning pitcher Caleb Freeman kept Jacksonville off the scoreboard through five innings, allowing three hits and one walk while fanning six. Forty-six of his 65 pitches went for strikes. None of the five Golden Eagles who got on base made it past second.
“Our pitchers have been outstanding throughout the playoffs in their ability to command the zone and throw strikes and keep hitters off balance,” said Bone. “They’ve really stepped up their game in making big pitches when they have to.”
Meanwhile, Freeman received all the support he would require in the bottom of the first, when a double by Scissum plated Caleb Smith. Scissum, Caleb Freeman scored later in the inning to make it 4-0.
The Blue Devils padded their lead in the fifth by way of respective RBI singles from Humphries and Braden Boatwright and an RBI sacrifice fly by Bennett.
Scissum doubled and scored on Caleb Freeman’s double-bagger in the bottom of the sixth, while Andrew Pierce came home on a passed ball.
Ben Lovell and Damon Devine each pitched an inning in relief, with the latter retiring Jacksonville in order in the top of the seventh to finish off the sweep.
Scissum went 2-for-2 with two doubles, an RBI and two runs scored; Pierce had a hit, two RBI and three runs scored; Boatwright went 2-for-3 with an RBI; and Caleb Freeman went 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored.
Etowah last appeared in the state semifinals in 1996 under Larry Foster, who guided the Blue Devils to the Class 5A state championship that season.
“It’s such a big deal for our community,” said Bone. “From our mayor to our council members to the board of education to our school administrators to our teachers, we’ve had the best support we could ask for. It’s a huge factor in our success. We’ve also got an incredible coaching staff, more than people realize. It’s a blessing for me and takes a load off my plate to have guys like we have around our kids on a daily basis.”
Bone, who was a junior at Southside in 1996, played travel ball with many of the players on Etowah’s roster that season.
“I had a lot of good friends at Etowah at that time,” he said. “There was a list of guys from that team, like Kyle Reeves and John Prince and Alan Willingham, who could flat-out play. We had a pretty good travel team that year with players from Etowah, Southside and Gadsden. I really enjoyed playing on that team.”

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