Photo: Etowah High’s Caleb Freeman (right) and Boaz catcher Alex Holland collide at home plate during the Blue Devils’ 5-4 loss in the second round of the Class 5A state baseball playoffs on April 26 in Attalla. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
The Etowah High baseball team left one too many ducks on the pond last Friday (Apr. 26) in Attalla.
Facing a win-or-go home scenario in the second game of a doubleheader in a Class 5A second round series against Boaz, the Blue Devils (26-13) had nine hits but stranded seven base runners en route to a season-ending 6-2 loss in Attalla.
For much of the contest, it looked as if Etowah would force a deciding third game after dropping the opener by a score of 5-4. As the visiting team in the nightcap, the Blue Devils took a 1-0 lead when Jarren Wright’s base hit plated Brittain Nance, who pinch-ran for Hunter Smalley after the latter singled with one out.
Etowah starter Kam Wilson cruised through the first five innings of the nightcap with relative ease, retiring 15 of the first 17 Pirate batters while allowing just one hit and two baserunners.
But with the hosts three outs away from playing on Saturday, the proverbial bottom fell out in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Lucas Smith drew a lead-off walk and following a groundout, Easton Hardin and Kylan Hornbuckle stroke consecutive singles to tie the game. Starting pitcher Brian Montgomery then put the visitors ahead for good at 3-1 with a two-run base hit.
Andrew Burns followed with an RBI double, bringing Alex Holland to the plate. The junior catcher sent the first pitch he saw high into leftfield. The ball barely remained fair and put the hosts in a 6-1 hole.
Etowah drew within four runs in the top of the seventh on Smalley’s one-out base hit and Daniel Sieber’s sacrifice fly, but Montgomery ended the potential rally by inducing a groundout.
In a complete-game effort, Montgomery allowed nine hits and two walks while striking out five. In every inning except one, he stranded an Etowah runner in scoring position.
“Numbers one through nine in their lineup, [Boaz] had some big hits at the right time tonight,” said Etowah head coach Brandon Johnson. “[Boaz] kind of got things moving in that last inning when we walked their nine-hole hitter. That hurt us, because their top of the order guys can really produce. I also thought the [Boaz] pitchers did a great job of controlling the games. They had a real bulldog mentality on the mound tonight.”
In all, Etowah left 14 runners on base.
“We were able to get some guys on and steal some bases, but it always comes down to getting a hit with a man on second, and [Boaz] did that tonight,” said Johnson. “But we made just one error in our five playoffs games, so I thought that we played well and we pitched well.”
Harris scattered six hits and two walks with five strikeouts in the second game.
In the opener, Etowah rallied from an early three-run deficit by scoring four runs in the bottom of the fourth. The Blue Devils had only two hits in the inning but walked five times. Sieber, DeRickey Wright, Will Noles and Hunter Cox all came home to give the hosts a 4-2 lead.
Boaz went up 2-0 on a pair of RBI singles by Sarratt, one in the top of the first and another in the third. Lucas Smith’s sacrifice fly in the fourth plated Burns for a 3-0 lead.
After getting the final out in the bottom of the fourth, Easton pitched three innings of one-hit ball, allowing the Pirates (18-12) to remain within striking distance. Jacob Smith drew a one-out walk in the top of the sixth. The next Boaz batter grounded out, but Hornbuckle doubled in Smith to tie the game at 4-4. Jackson Sarratt then singled home Hornbuckle with the winning run.
In seven innings, Etowah Game 1 starter Will Hotalen allowed 10 hits, five runs and three walks while fanning four. Inn three and two-third innings, Boaz starter Judson McKinney gave up three hits, four runs and eight walks with one strikeout.
For the series for Etowah at the plate, Wright had three hits and two RBI, while Austin Young has three hits and Smalley two.
For Boaz, Sarratt went 5-for-6 with three RBI, while Jacob Smith went 5-for-7 with three RBI and two runs scored. Holland finished with three hits, two RBI and a run scored, while Hardin had two hits, two RBI and two runs scored.
“You look at the [Class 5A] playoff field right now, and there really isn’t that one team out there that’s better than everybody else,” said Johnson. “It boils down to who plays the best in a series. We did that last week [against Jasper] and Boaz did tonight, especially offensively.”
Boaz travels to Madison Academy this week for the Pirates first state quarterfinal appearance since 2008.
Johnson, who took over as EHS baseball coach last summer, was appreciative of his first Blue Devil team.
“For me personally, this has been a special group to coach. I’ll always be thankful to them for the way they accepted me, especially the seniors. It’s really been a great year.”