Photo: Etowah High’s Hunter Humphries (left) scores a seventh-inning run as Mobile Christian catcher Ty Mancha awaits the throw home during the Blue Devils’ 9-2 loss to Mobile Christian in the Class 4A state championship series last Wednesday (May 18) at Jacksonville State. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
The Etowah High baseball team’s impressive 2022 season came to a disappointing end last Wednesday (May 18) in Jacksonville.
Facing elimination against Mobile Christian in the best-of-three Class 4A state championship series, the Blue lost 9-2 in Game 2 at Jacksonville State.
Etowah (28-14) hung with with the defending state champion Leopards (33-4) through five innings with only a 4-2 deficit, but Mobile starter Cam Diamond effectively shut down the Etowah offense the rest of the way by retiring eight of the next nine batters. Briggs’ Freeman’s base hit with two outs in the seventh plated Hunter Humphries, but Diamond struck out the next batter to secure the championship trophy.
Meanwhile, the Leopards put across two unearned runs in the sixth to make it a four-run lead, while Charlie Keller’s three-run home run in the seventh essentially put the kibosh on any hopes of an Etowah rally.
In seven innings, Diamond scattered five hits, two earned runs and two walks while striking out six.
Etowah freshman Jameson Scissum allowed nine hits in four innings but held Mobile to three runs and twice did not allow a run with the bases loaded.
Mobile took the lead for good in the top of the first on Jay Grant’s two-run dinger.
The Blue Devils pulled within 2-1 in the bottom of the second when Andrew Pierce singled and scored on Humphries’ RBI groundout.
Scissum sent down the Leopards in order in the third, but Brody Hinton’s inside-the-park home run on the first pitch of the top of the fourth gave Mobile a 3-1 advantage. Another Humphries RBI groundout in the fourth cut the deficit to one run, but turned out to be the final time that Etowah crossed home plate.
Pierce went 2-for-3 with two runs scored, while Humphries had a hit, two RBI and a run scored.
Etowah head coach Blake Bone pointed to the resiliency of this players for putting forth an inspired effort in Game 2 following an emotional loss in Tuesday’s opener.
“Our kids don’t stop and they don’t quit. They fight to end, and that speaks to who they are as both baseball players and as people. [Game 1] was a tough one to swallow, but we were ready to play today. We had our chances, but [Mobile] capitalized on a couple of mistakes. Our kids had the willpower to compete, and I wouldn’t have expected anything less from this group.”
The Blue Devils ran into some tough luck in the opener on Tuesday night at Choccolocco Park in Oxford. After building leads of 5-1 and 7-3, Etowah wound up losing 9-8 when a balk with two outs in the bottom of the seventh forced in the winning run.
“It’s disappointing, but I’m so proud of what this team has done over the course of this season,” said Bone. “Our goal all year was to win it, and obviously we fell a little short, but that will be our expectation going into next year. They worked their tails off every single day without complaint. This is my first year here, and these guys were ready to be successful when we came in. They deserve every accomplishment and every accolade they receive. Even though we fell short, it was a such a special season because of the group of guys in that locker room.”
With Mobile Christian’s down to its final out in Game 1, Alex Bennett hit a high pop fly into foul territory along the first base line, but an Etowah player dropped it. Given another chance, Bennett then lined a single to center to score Seth Smith with the tying run.
Three pitches later, Brody Hinton scored the game-winning run off the balk call.
Trace Thompson doubled in his first three at-bats for Etowah, finishing 3-for-4 with two RBI and a run scored. Scissum had two hits and two RBIs.
Charlie Keller hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning to jumpstart the Leopards, while Stokes had a solo dinger in the fifth to cut the Blue Devil lead to 7-6. Both teams scored a run in the sixth before Mobile Christian scored twice in the seventh to complete the comeback.
In his one inning of work in Game 1, Scissum retired the side in order in the bottom of the first, while Caleb Freeman did likewise in the bottom of the second.
The Blue Devils got on the scoreboard first by way of Pierce’s sacrifice fly in the top of the second. That set the stage for a four-run fourth, highlighted by Scissum’s score off a balk and Trace Thompson two-RBI double.
Mobile answered in the bottom of the inning with three runs, but two runs off errors and Scissum’s RBI triple in the top of the fourth restored the Etowah lead at 7-3.
The Leopards went to the long ball in fifth, with respective home runs by Keller and Zane Stokes cutting the Blue Devils advantage to one run.
Both teams scored a run in the sixth to make it 8-7 heading into the final inning. Pierce’s leadoff single in the top of the seventh was negated by double play, and Hinton’s score off the balk in the bottom of the inning put Etowah in a win-or-go-home scenario in Game 2.
Bone tipped his hat to the Leopard lineup, which totaled 19 hits – eight for extra bases – in the series.
“There’s no break in that line-up. You’re on the edge with every pitch you throw, because they can hurt you. From top to bottom, those guys can leave the park at any time. To be honest, it’s different off their bats than I’ve seen in recent years, if at ever.”
Bone was appreciative for the amount of support the program received from the Attalla community.
“You could see that just from looking at how many people came last night and today to cheer us on,” he said. “It was just a blue wave of people out there. A lot of people forget just how much goes into something like this. Just having a mayor (Larry Means) who gives us the things we need to be successful, like a new ballfield, is huge.
We also have a great superintendent (Jeff Colegrove) who had allowed me to put together an amazing coaching staff, who make my job so much easier as a head coach. I’m so grateful to have people like that around me who make our kids better, not only as players but as men. Our goal since we came here last summer is to build this program back to where it used to be, and I think we’re headed in that direction.”