Surprising Eagles on verge of EC title
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
Plenty remained to be determined headed into Saturday's final day of competition at the Escambia County Baseball Tournament at Flomaton thanks to both the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles and Mother Nature.
W.S. Neal threw a big wrench into the outcome when it stunned pre-tournament favorite T.R. Miller 8-5 in Thursday's opening round. The Tigers not only had beaten W.S. Neal twice during the regular season, but T.R. Miller had also beaten the other county schools, Flomaton and Escambia County, twice as well. The loss also snapped the Tigers' 13-game winning streak.
The W.S. Neal-T.R. Miller contest was shortened by stormy conditions with one out during the Blue Eagles' at bat in the bottom of the sixth inning. The game was ruled an official contest because it had gone the necessary five innings (or four and a half if the home team is ahead).
Mother Nature also had an impact on W.S. Neal's second game of the tournament against Flomaton Friday. The Hurricanes had just taken a 6-5 lead in the bottom of the fourth inning when stormy conditions again prevented play. This time the game was suspended until Saturday because it had not reached official length.
If W.S. Neal rallied to beat Flomaton, it would have clinched the tournament championship before Saturday's scheduled rounds even began. If Flomaton (which beat Escambia County 5-1 in Thursday's first round) held on to beat W.S. Neal, it put the Hurricanes in position to win the tournament if they beat T.R. Miller. Despite the first game loss to W.S. Neal, T.R. Miller still had a chance to win the crown Saturday through different tiebreakers (if Flomaton beat W.S. Neal in the suspended game).
W.S. Neal 8, T.R. Miller 5
The Blue Eagles (8-16) used a gutsy performance from pitcher Brandon Douglas and the power of Spencer Williamson that avenged regular season losses to T.R. Miller of 7-2 in East Brewton and 9-8 at Brewton.
Douglas had not pitched since he sustained what was feared to be a season-ending ankle injury at Clarke County nearly two weeks earlier. Douglas battled for five and one-third innings and allowed only four hits before Whitney Qualls relieved him.
"Brandon pitched on sheer guts. His ankle was really sore and swollen again Friday. The fact he was able to go out there and give us some innings was a big boost for us. Without him, we didn't have many pitching options left," W.S. Neal coach Coy Campbell said.
T.R. Miller took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning when Allen Williams singled in Tyler Shehan.
A big five-run rally by the Blue Eagles in the bottom of the second inning against T.R. Miller pitcher Baxley Raines changed the complexion of the game and the tournament.
Josh Danley and Daniel Hodge delivered RBI singles that first tied the game and then put W.S. Neal up 2-1. The biggest blow came moments later when Williamson unloaded a three-run homer that made it 5-1.
After Becker Denton scored on a throwing error in the top of the fourth that cut W.S. Neal's lead to 5-2, Williamson went deep again with a solo shot in the bottom half of the inning that made it 6-2. T.R. Miller centerfielder and leadoff Jacob Salter tried to rob Williamson of a homerun, but was instead injured on the play and did not return. Salter was not expected to play the rest of the tournament.
The Tigers rallied in the top of the sixth inning against a tiring Douglas and then reliever Whitney Qualls. An RBI double by Tanner Shehan, a bases loaded walk to Raines and a sacrifice fly by Jordan Ball cut the Blue Eagles' lead to just 6-5.
W.S. Neal answered with two insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth inning just before play was stopped. Justin Smith walked and Hodge singled to set up Williamson's fifth RBI of the game on a double followed by a run-scoring wild pitch.
"It was disappointing to lose, but (W.S.) Neal did the necessary things to win and we didn't," T.R. Miller coach Jim Hart said.
T.R. Miller 010 103 – 5 4 1
W.S. Neal 050 012 – 8 7 2
T.R. Miller 9, Escambia Co. 6
The Tigers (19-5) came from behind twice to beat the Blue Devils and evened their tournament record at 1-1.
Escambia County, which lost its 13th straight game, had as much as a 4-1 lead until T.R. Miller erased it in the bottom of the third inning when Tyler Shehan's RBI single and Tyler Chapman's two-run double tied it at 4-4.
Jonathan McNeil's sacrifice fly gave the Blue Devils a 5-4 lead in the top of the fourth inning,
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but solo homers by Jordan Ball and Chapman in the bottom gave T.R. Miller a 6-5 advantage, its first lead of the game.
When reliever Mikel Riggs, who got credit for the win, issued a bases loaded walk to Corey Flowers in the top of the sixth inning, Escambia County pulled even again at 6-6.
In the bottom of the sixth, T.R. Miller got consecutive doubles by Baxley Raines, Ball and Tyler Shehan. The latter two were RBI producers and so was Becker Denton's RBI double two batters later that made it 9-6.
"We had to shuffle our lineup around a little bit, especially with Jacob Salter's injury. Chapman really stepped up for us and swung the bat really well. Tyler had a great week of practice and we felt he earned the opportunity to start that game," Tigers coach Jim Hart said. "I didn't feel we would have a letdown after losing to W.S. Neal although we had some breakdowns in the field (five errors)."
Escambia Co. 112 101 0 – 6 12 1
T.R. Miller 103 023 X – 9 15 5