Photo: Etowah High seniors Briggs Freeman (left) and Caleb Freeman signed baseball scholarships on February 8 with Snead State Community College in Boaz. (Chris McCarthy)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Four Etowah High School seniors will continue their baseball careers close to their former stomping grounds.
On February 8, Hunter Humphries and Brant Stringer signed with Gadsden State and Caleb Freeman and Briggs Freeman inked with Snead State in Boaz.
Humphries and the Freeman brothers helped the 2022 Blue Devils post the program’s most successful season in recent years, as Etowah went 28-14 and a earned berth in the state championship series for first time since 1996. The Blue Devils went 9-2 in the postseason and finished as the Class 4A state runner-up.
As the Blue Devils’ ace last season, Caleb Freeman finished with 87 strikeouts and a 1.89 earned run average in 60 innings with a record of 8-4-2 and a no-hitter. Freeman was also one of the Blue Devils’ top hitters with 44 hits with 11 doubles, 36 runs scored, 26 RBI and a .344 average. He was near-perfect in stolen base attempts at 26-for-27, and his defensive prowess yielded a 0.944 fielding percentage. He was named All-Messenger Player of the Year and Class 4A first team All-State following the season.
“Caleb and Briggs were very important in what we’ve built here over the past few years,” said EHS head baseball coach Blake Bone. “They bring that tough hard-nose, blue-collar mentality and want be successful. They represent this school and the community of Attalla in everything they do. They’re both very talented and have played a lot of baseball. They’ve had a lot of success at the high school level, and I don’t see that changing at Snead [State]. I also think they’ll go to the next level after Snead and play this game for a long time. You hate to lose guys like that from your program, but they’ll leave behind a very good legacy.”
Bone is glad that Humphries, who is his stepson, and Stringer will be part of Gadsden State’s first baseball team in several years. The Cardinals will begin play this fall under head coach Blake Lewis.
“It’s awesome that Gadsden State is back, and Coach Lewis has done a great job of recruiting and has a great class coming in,” said Bone. “We’re thankful to have college baseball back in our hometown. A lot of guys from Etowah High School played at Gadsden State, and I think Hunter and Brant understand the significance of bringing that program back.
“I probably yell at Hunter a lot more than anyone else at practice,” said Bone. “He’s that quiet leader who does his job every single day. He leads by example and always does things the right way. His discipline and work ethic will carry him a long way at the next level. I think the sky is the limit for what Hunter can do.”
Stringer transferred from Hartselle and was a member of the Tigers’ 2022 Class 6A state championship team as a pitcher and third baseman.
“[Hartselle head baseball] coach [William] Booth always had good things to say about Brant, and Brant came in here with a great work ethic and has worked really hard in the offseason,” said Bone. “He’s going to have a major impact on our program, both from the offensive side and on the mound. The ceiling is extremely high for Brant, both for this season and at Gadsden State. With his height and his arm speed, there’s no telling how far Brant can go.”
Lewis considers Humphries and Stringer tailor-made for his first-year program.
“Ultimately, talent is what we’re looking for, and it’s a whole lot better when they’re local,” said Lewis. “Both Hunter and Brant will be a big help in getting this program started back in the direction we need it to go. We’re very excited about their future and their ceiling and what they’re going to be able to do for us. I think Hunter will come in and immediately compete for a job at shortstop, and Brant’s going to be a good utility guy who can help us on the mound and at the plate. They’re both going to be huge assets for us and play a big role in the level of success that we’ll have.”
Lewis pointed to both players being products of highly successful programs as a major factor in their recruitment.
“With Hunter coming up through Etowah and Brant through Hartselle, they’re coming from two of the top high school coaches in the state. When you get kids from winning programs, you’re getting kids that are already used to having a high level of expectation in terms of how things need to be done in order to achieve success. That certainly plays a huge rule in the transition from high school to college ball.”
Snead State head baseball coach Casey Underwood believes both Freemans will be key contributors. The Parsons went 42-14 last season en route to winning the program’s first-ever Alabama Community College Conference championship.
“One of the bonuses at the junior college level is that you get the opportunity to play right away,” said Underwood. “We expect them to come in and compete for a starting position for the next two years. As athletic as he is, Caleb has a chance to be a two-way [player]. Briggs is the ultimate utility guy, and in today’s game, you have to have that type of guy in order to be successful. He brings a lot of things to the table, and as long as he hits, he’ll find a way into the lineup.
“The character and work ethic of those two young men are exactly what we look for. We’re really excited when we get guys from Etowah. They come from a winning pedigree, and we expect them to have an immediate impact in our program.”
Underwood is looking forward to renewing his program’s friendly rivalry with Gadsden State.
“Coach Lewis is a young and energetic guy, and I think he’ll do a great job. They definitely have the right guy for that spot. We’re good friends, and we both try to prepare our guys to get after it on the field but also be good character guys.”
Bone said he pointed out to his team during the presea-son that while it may have different parts than the 2022 Etowah squad, the same goal remains.
“Last year is last year, and you learn from what happened. You never know what can happen in this game, and I truly believe that the preparation we did in the offseason will determine how our season goes. But our guys understand that and have worked really hard. The competition we’ve had at practice is like I’ve never seen before. It’s a great motivator when you’ve got guys pushing each other for a starting position every single day. Our ultimate goal is to get that (state championship) blue trophy on the mantle, but a lot of things have to happen to get there.”