Messenger file photo by Chris McCarthy
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
For the second straight year, the Etowah High baseball team will participate in the Final Four.
In the state quarterfinals on Thursday, May 4, the Blue Devils cruised to a 13-2 victory in Game 1 and rallied for an 8-2 win in the second game against West Limestone in Lester.
Etowah will travel the semifinal round next week to the winner of the Priceville/St. John Paul II Catholic series.
“I think experience was a big factor for us in this series,” said Etowah head coach Blake Bone. “It’s a ‘been there, done that’ kind of situation, and we never thought we were out of it. This group does a really good job of not feeling the pressure, and they expect to win. They did a great job of taking advantage of the opportunities when they came up.”
Etowah took control of Game 1 right off the bat with a six-run first inning off Wildcat starter Collin Patterson. Hunter Humphries doubled and scored on an error, Caleb Freeman and Slade St. Clair both came in via a bases-loaded hit-by pitch, Jameson Scissum (pictured above) scored on a fielder’s choice and Briggs Freeman’s two-out single plated Trace Thompson and Andrew Pierce.
“We jumped on him pretty good and he had trouble throwing strikes,” said Bone. “Hunter’s double kind of got things going, and then [Patterson] was all over the place and they took him out of the game after 38 pitches.”
The Wildcats scored a run in both the first and second innings to draw within four runs, but Etowah made it 7-2 in the top of the third when St. Clair doubled and scored on Scissum’s sacrifice fly.
With Scissum, Damon Devine and Braden Boatwright holding West Limestone scoreless the rest of the game, the Blue Devils tacked on three runs over the final two innings.
With two outs in the top of the fifth, Scissum singled in Humphries and Thompson drove in Pierce and Scissum for a 10-2 advantage.
In the sixth, base hits from Cash Hayes and Humphries set up Caleb Freeman’s three-run home run for a 13-2 lead. Boatwright struck out two and induced a flyout in the bottom of the sixth to end the game on the 10-run mercy rule.
Scissum earned the win in four and two-thirds innings, scattering four hits and five walks while fanning four. Thompson went 2-for-4 with three RBI and a run scored; Humphries went 2-for-4 with three runs scored; Scissum went 1-for-2 with two RBI and two runs scored; Caleb Freeman went 1-for-3 with three RBI and two runs scored and St. Clair had a hit and two runs scored.
The final score of Game 2 was not indicative of how close the game was through the first five innings.
After the Wildcats took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first, West Limestone starter Collin Patterson carried a no-hitter through four innings while allowing only four baserunners. But Bone and the Blue Devils knew Patterson had less than 100 pitches before he had to leave the game.
“Even though we didn’t have a lot of hits in that game, we had a lot of extended at-bats that eventually got [Patterson] out of the game,” said Bone. “Even when we struck out, a lot of those took nine or 10 pitches. We were okay with that, because once we got his pitch count up, [West Limestone] had to go to the bullpen, and that changed the whole complexity of the game. But it was impressive for [Patterson] to come back after a rough [Game 1] and do what he did in Game 2. That wasn’t an easy thing for him to do after throwing around 40 pitches and the having to sit for two and half hours and get back out there and do it again.”
Meanwhile, Etowah starter Caleb Freeman quickly recovered from a shaky start. After a double play helped him escape a bases-loaded jam in the second, Freeman allowed two baserunners over the next four innings.
“Neither of our starters had his best stuff, but they battled and gave us what we needed. Again, I think that comes from being in those situations before. Caleb’s absolutely the guy we want with the ball in his hand when it comes time to finish it off.”
The Blue Devils finally got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fifth, when Briggs Freeman walked and stole second, third and home. After Caleb Freeman retired the side in order in the sixth, Etowah went to work in the bottom of the inning.
A leadoff walk combined with three bunts resulted in Humphries tying the score at 2-2. Pierce singled in Caleb Freeman to give the Blue Devils the lead for good, while Thompson’s two-run base hit made it a three-run advantage.
Pierce then scored off an RBI groundout, Christian Morrison bunted in Thompson and Morrison came home on Hayes’ sacrifice fly to place the hosts in a six-run deficit.
The Wildcats loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh, but Caleb Freeman induced a fielder’s choice to close out the game and punch the Blue Devils’ ticket to the state semifinals.
Thompson went 1-for-3 with two RBI and a run scored, while Pierce had a hit, an RBI and a run scored.
“Obviously, we’re extremely proud of where we are and what we’ve accomplished, but the job’s not done, and our kids know that,” said Bone. “They understand that our ultimate goal is to walk away with the blue map (state championship) this year. Our eyes are on the prize, and we’re just trying to get there step by step and game by game.