Blue Devils win state baseball championship

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Photo: The Etowah High baseball team celebrates shortly after winning the Class 4A state baseball championship last Wednesday (May 17) at Jacksonville State. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger) 

By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor

On the heels of the Etowah High boys bowling team ending the school’s 23-year state championship drought last November, the school’s baseball team did likewise last Wednesday (May 17) at Jacksonville State.
Etowah (30-11) capped a 10-0 postseason by sweeping UMS-Wright Prep, 6-1 and 5-1, in the Class 4A state finals to win the program’s first state title since 1996.
“We had a vision two years ago when we came here, and that was to win a state championship,” said Etowah head coach Blake Bone. “These guys brought in from Day 1. You always hear that hard work pays off, and it did for these guys. We demand a lot out of them, and they are so deserving of this.
“I’m unbelievably proud of what they’ve accomplished, both from a team perspective and a player perspective.”
The Blue Devils, who finished as state runner-up last season, relied on their standard 2023 playoff means to defeat the Bulldogs – a pair of strong pitching efforts, near-flawless defense and methodically working up the opposing star-ter’s pitch count.
In Thursday’s series-clinching victory, the Attalla squad shook off an early 1-0 deficit and put across three runs in the bottom of the fourth to take the lead for good.
The game’s momentum-changer, however, occurred in the top of the inning when the Bulldogs (24-17) were leading 1-0 and had the bases loaded with no outs. With no margin for error, Etowah ace Caleb Freeman struck out the next batter.
As the third strike rolled past catcher Briggs Freeman, the runner on third base attempted to score. Caleb ran to home plate as Briggs retrieved the ball, and his throw reach Caleb just in time for him to tag out the runner and end the inning.
“It’s always big when you know your defense will make plays behind you,” said Freeman. “You really don’t have to do too much work on the mound because you have so much confidence in your defense.”
That heads-up play led to a three-run inning by Etowah. Slade St. Clair walked, series MVP Jameson Scissum had a base hit and Andrew Pierce laid down a bunt single. Briggs Freeman’s sacrifice fly to second base plated St. Clair to tie the game at 1-1, and Conner Dingler’s base hit drove in Pierce and Scissum to make it 3-1 in favor of Etowah.
With that two-run lead, Caleb Freeman was able to zero in on the Bulldog lineup. He did not give up another hit and allowed only two more baserunners the rest of the way. In seven innings, Freeman scattered seven hits and four walks while striking out six.
In contrast, UMS-Wright starter Alex Sherman was gone by the fifth inning after his pitch count reached 73.
Freeman received additional support on Scissum’s RBI sacrifice fly in the fifth and Hunter Humphries’ run-scoring double in the sixth.
UMS-Wright had no answer for those clutch at-bats, and from that point on, it was just a matter of time before the Blue Devils earned the right to hoist the first-place blue plaque.
“We have the mindset of welcoming adversity, and I don’t think these guys ever felt the pressure or that we were ever out of a game,” said Bone. “We’ve had the mindset that we keep grinding, things will happen for us.”
Humphries went 2-for-4 with an RBI, Pierce went 2-for-2 with a run scored, Conner Dingler had a hit and two RBI and Scissum had a hit and RBI and a run scored.
A late start due to rain did not put a damper on Scissum’s pitching performance in the series opener on Tuesday at Choccolocco Park in Oxford.
The sophomore righthander hurled six shutout innings while allowing two hits and three walks and striking out five. Following Cole Blaylock’s base hit in the bottom of the first, Scissum sent down 18 of the next 20 Bulldogs batters while retiring the side in the second, fourth and fifth innings.
Scissum yielded to Damon Devine in the bottom of the seventh after UMS-Wright loaded the bases with one out. After allowing a run-scoring single, Devine induced a lineout to second base and struck out the next batter to secure the win and set up a possible series sweep.
The game began at 9:15 p.m., two hours and 15 minutes after a scheduled 7 p.m. start and did not finish until shortly before midnight.
The Blue Devils scored four runs in the top of the third to take the lead for good. Consecutive singles from Briggs Freeman and Cash Hayes resulted in a 1-0 advantage. Humphries then singled to bring up Caleb Freeman, whose ensuing double in the rightfield gap made it 3-0. Scissum singled home Freeman later in the inning for a four-run lead.
With Scissum keeping the Bulldog lineup in check, Etowah tacked on a pair of insurance runs later in the game. St. Clair singled and scored on Trace Thompson’s base hit in the fifth, while Humphries scored on an error in the sixth.
Humphries went 2-for-3 with two runs scored; Thompson and Pierce each went 2-for-4; Caleb Freeman went 1-for-2 with two RBI and a run scored and Hayes, St. Clair and Briggs Freeman each had a hit and a run scored.
Bone, who coached two state runner-up teams at Southside, noted how difficult it is to earn a berth in the state title series, much less win a championship.
“I’ve been doing this a long time and have had a lot of good teams, and it’s so tough to get here. To get here back-to-back years in extremely tough. I can’t express how special this is.”
“Going through that tough loss [in last year’s championship series] made us work harder and brought us closer together,” said Scissum. “The ability to overcome the adversity makes this just that more special.”
“Last’s year’s feeling was the worst,” said Thompson. “I don’t think anybody on the team wanted [to experience] that feeling again, so we came to work every day, and here is the result right now.”
“After last year, this season was the Revenge Tour for us,” said Caleb Freeman. “We weren’t going to take anything less than what we did today. It was the only goal we had all year.”
Bone had special praise for his 10-member senior class.
“I don’t think there will ever be enough time to say what these guys meant to our program, to our school and to our community,” he said. “These guys have been leaders for us all over Attalla, and they have so many people who look up to him. These guys are part of a true team, something that you don’t always get these days.”

 

 

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