UMS-Wright coach Kevin Raley looks on from the dugout during the Bulldogs’ 5-1 loss to Etowah in Game 2 of the Class 4A state championship series in Jacksonville on Wednesday, (Marvin Gentry | firstname.lastname@example.org)
UMS- Wright’s Wilson Colvin (1) is tagged out at home by Etowah pitcher Caleb Freeman in a key double play in the fourth inning Wednesday during Game 2 of the Class 4A state baseball championship series in Jacksonvillle. (Marvin Gentry | email@example.com)
By JIMMY WIGFIELD
JACKSONVILLE, Ala. — Amid a stampede of cowbells wielded by the 1,300 partisan Etowah fans packed into Rudy Abbott Field, a rumbling coming from the other direction was audible.
In the shadow of Mount Cheaha, the highest point in Alabama, a UMS-Wright avalanche seemed imminent and it had the potential to finally break the Blue Devils’ grip on the Class 4A championship series and clear a path to the pinnacle of high school baseball in the state.
The Bulldogs had nicked Etowah’s pitching armor, getting a lead for the first time in the series, then putting two runners on base with one out in the second inning and loading the bases with one out in the fourth.
But the Blue Devils turned two incredible double plays — including a play at the plate — to pulverize UMS-Wright’s hopes and went on to beat the Bulldogs 5-1 Wednesday to win their first Blue Map since 1996.
“I believe there are baseball gods in the world and when you don’t cash in, there will be a run or two the next inning,” said Bulldogs coach Kevin Raley, who has won 711 games and two state championships but was denied the school’s first Blue Map since 2017 and its 11th overall.
“Sometimes you can’t stop it,” Raley said. “Those two double plays were big plays, a turning point for sure.”
UMS-Wright was seeing double after that and never got a runner past first base again as it was swept in the finals for only the second time in 13 appearances dating to 1978.
The Bulldogs (27-14) managed only two runs and 11 hits in the finals. In the clincher, Etowah left-hander Caleb Freeman vexed them with his breaking ball to disperse seven hits in a complete game featuring 104 pitches.
“We were not going to take nothing less than what we did here,” Freeman said.
In Game 1, series MVP Jameson Scissum allowed three hits and a run in 6.1 innings of a 6-1 victory.
“Their pitching was outstanding,” Raley said. “That lefty, his breaking ball was better than we heard. And last night, (Scissum) was a competitor. He made big pitch after big pitch.”
The top of UMS-Wright’s batting order — Cole Blaylock, Olin Ward, Logan Norris and William Taylor — was 4-for-25 in the series and didn’t drive in a run.
“We were hitting the ball hard all series and just sometimes things don’t fall your way,” said Blaylock, who led the Bulldogs with a .444 average. “They hit spots when they needed to and we hit it right to their fielders. We caught plenty of barrels, just not as much grass as we would have liked.”
The Blue Devils (30-11) finished 10-0 in the playoffs with an 11-game winning streak and victories in 23 of their last 27 games.
“I congratulate Etowah,” Raley said. “They’ve got a class program. We knew coming up here it would be a battle. We played really good today but they made the plays.”
UMS-Wright led 1-0 in the second on Ty Waters’ double and Parker Barraza’s one-out RBI single and amassed more baserunners behind that in a bid to take command. But Blaylock lined out to second baseman Slade St. Clair, who completed a double play by tossing to shortstop Hunter Humphries catching Barraza leaning off the bag.
In the fourth, the Bulldogs loaded the bases with one out but, on a bang-bang play, John Ramsay struck out swinging for the second out and John Colvin tried to score from third when the ball got away from catcher Briggs Freeman, who recovered and threw to Caleb Freeman covering home.
“We didn’t capitalize when we had the chance and we paid for it,” Blaylock said.
After the double play in the top of the fourth, the Blue Devils took the lead for good with three runs in the bottom of the inning, one when St. Clair scrambled home from third on a popup to second baseman Ramsay in shallow right field and two more on pinch-hitter Conner Dingler’s two-out single.
Right-hander Alex Sherman (8-3) took the loss, giving up four runs and six hits in four innings.
Etowah made Sherman and relievers Ward and Andy Purvis work hard, showing the discipline to force 68 pitches in the last three innings.
UMS-Wright also slowly succumbed to the Blue Devils’ small ball. As in Game 1, when Etowah had three bunt singles, it set up two runs in Game 2 with another bunt single and a sacrifice bunt.
“They do a good job of putting pressure on you defensively,” Raley said.
That pressure didn’t extend to the Blue Devils themselves. Etowah coach Blake Bone had three state runner-up finishes, one as a player and two as coach, including a loss to Mobile Christian in last year’s finals, before the satisfying breakthrough on Wednesday.
“We came in here with that goal,” Bone said. “We demand a lot and these guys are so deserving. They never feel pressure.”
Scissum reveled in going from the depths of losing to the Leopards in last year’s finals to lifting the Blue Map in celebration Wednesday.
“It made you want to work in the weight room at 6 in the morning and practice ‘til 8 at night,” he said. “Last year was the worst feeling.”
Meanwhile, Raley and the Bulldogs will go back to work so they can come back and try to win another state championship.
“At UMS, the expectations start in class,” Raley said. “You’re held to a standard in class and it bleeds over into athletics. These guys expect to succeed.”
UMS-Wright has 10 Blue Maps all-time, second only to G.W. Long’s 14.
“You wear this jersey across your chest, it’s a huge honor,” senior pitcher and left fielder Sutton Snypes said.