Eagles fly to EC Tournament crown
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
Expectations were high within the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles baseball program when this season began.
Considering they entered the Escambia County Tournament with a 7-16 record and on the outside looking in when it comes to the state playoffs, it is probably safe to say a lot of those expectations were not met.
Yet the Blue Eagles were able to salvage a lot of satisfaction, as they concluded their season Saturday with their first Escambia County Tournament championship since 2001.
Along the way to the championship W.S. Neal (10-16) won a rain-shortened 8-5 victory over T.R. Miller Thursday. The Blue Eagles clinched their tournament championship in round two when they outslugged Flomaton 17-13. Mother Nature also played a role in that game. The Blue Eagles were down 6-5 headed into the top of the fifth inning when play was halted due to lightning and approaching storms. Since five innings (or in this case four and one-half innings with the home team ahead) had not been played, the game was suspended until Saturday when the Blue Eagles' offense erupted. A 15-8 win over Escambia County in the finale added a little icing to the cake.
In a tournament full of heroes, freshman designated hitter Jake Smith provided a day that will be remembered for a long time.
Smith blasted four homeruns, went seven-for-seven at the plate with two walks and drove in 10 runs.
W.S. Neal 17, Flomaton 13
With the storm clouds approaching and down 4-1, the Blue Eagles took what seemed to be a critical 5-4 lead in the top of the fourth inning.
W.S. Neal took advantage of all kinds of control problems by Hurricanes pitcher Darren Lisenby, who issued a wild pitch on a strikeout, a run-scoring wild pitch, two walks and a balk. An infield single by Chad McCall and an RBI single by Daniel Hodge also factored into the scoring, which put the Blue Eagles up 5-4.
Just as the storm arrived, Flomaton used an RBI double by Jake Bonds and an RBI single by Mike Wedgeworth off Blue Eagle starter Whitney Qualls to take a 6-5 lead.
It did not take the Blue Eagles long to make their move when play resumed Saturday.
Spencer Williamson singled and Jared Cooper was hit by a pitch that set up an RBI single by Cory Freeman that tied the game at 6-6. Up stepped Jake Smith, who blasted a long three-run homerun over the leftfield wall that put the Blue Eagles up 9-6.
Sore ankle and all from an injury sustained two weeks earlier, Douglas took over on the
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mound for Qualls when play resumed.
Although Douglas may not have had his best stuff, he was able to labor through a scoreless bottom of the fifth inning. However, two errors and a two-run single by Josh Salter enabled the Hurricanes to score three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning that tied the game at 9-9.
That tie lasted only until Jake Smith stepped to the plate to lead off the seventh. Just like he did his last time up, Smith hit one over the leftfield wall in nearly the same identical spot that put the Blue Eagles back in front 10-9.
It was the start of an incredible inning by the Smith brothers. Not be outdone, sophomore Justin Smith later cranked out a three-run homer in the inning that made it 13-9.
After Cory Freeman chipped in an RBI single that made it 14-9, Jake Smith's spot came up again and he smashed his second homer of the inning and third of the game, a three-run job, that made it 17-9.
As it turned out the Blue Eagles needed some extra cushion because Flomaton's Josh Salter ripped a grand slam in the bottom of the seventh inning.
W.S. Neal 100 440 8 – 17 11 3
Flomaton 301 203 4 – 13 12 3
W.S. Neal 15,
Escambia County 8
Although they had the championship already secured, the Blue Eagles left no doubt about the tournament outcome when they downed Escambia County 15-8 in Saturday's finale.
After Escambia County took a brief 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning, W.S. Neal's offense picked up in the bottom of the first inning where it left off from the Flomaton game.
Walks to Justin Smith and Williamson set up an RBI single by Jake Smith and then a three-run homer by Cooper that put the Blue Eagles up 4-1.
W.S. Neal hit its sixth and seventh homers of the day in a four-run second inning that took the lead up to 8-2. While Josh Danley's solo shot just sneaked over the leftfield wall, there was no doubt about the two-run blow that Jake Smith hit high off the scoreboard in left-centerfield for his fourth roundtripper of the day.
The Blue Eagles would go on to score in every inning. Winning pitcher Chad
McCall helped his cause with an RBI double in the third inning and an RBI single in the fourth inning.
Williamson contributed an RBI single and Cory Freeman smacked an RBI double in the fifth inning. James Freeman came up with an RBI single that drove in W.S. Neal's final run in the sixth inning.
Escambia Co. 112 103 0 – 8 9 3
W.S. Neal 441 222 X – 15 18 0