WSN fans ‘love these boys’
They have filled their side of the visiting bleachers in Opp to capacity — more than 30 minutes before the game even started. They sat in the rain Friday night at home to watch their team pull off a 4-3 quarterfinal win and clinch a spot in the class 3A state semifinals this week in Trinity.
W.S. Neal fans have gone the distance for their 29-0 top-ranked Eagle baseball team — and as the Eagles approach the semifinals this week, they’ve also attracted respect from crosstown rivals T.R. Miller.
Steve Blackman is president of the team’s booster club, and his son Cam is a senior on the team.
“As Diamond Club president, this season has been great,” Blackman said. “We start in December trying to raise money early on. The way the economy is, it was hard getting even the first part of season. Money was not coming in, but as the season went on, we secured some major sponsors. As the winning streak kept going, attendance was up and that meant more money in concessions stands. Last week was the most money we ever made at gate and concessions since I have been president. I have never seen that many people at a W.S. Neal baseball game. The support from the community and businesses in both towns have been great this year.”
Blackman said he could not be happier for his son Cam and the team.
“I’m so proud of them no matter what happens the rest of the season,” he said. “I graduated at Neal and love W.S. Neal, but I believe this is the best group of seniors I have seen come through Neal. They believe in each other.”
William Shell is a former Eagle baseball player and he said he is proud of this year’s group.
“I knew they were going to be special when half of their team now was starting when I played in 2009 as eighth graders,” he said. “They come to work everyday at practice, no matter what the weather is doing. And they’re even out there after hours on Sundays and late in the evening. Most people don’t realize what goes on behind the scenes of a good baseball team, so it’s not a fluke that they’re in this position.”
Leigh Bradley says she is a proud mom of the W.S. Neal Eagles this year.
“This could not be happening to a better group of young men. For one thing, most of these boys have been playing ball with each other for years,” she said. “They have for sure earned their place in the finals. East Brewton is very proud of these young men.”
Keith Morrison, a 1978 alumni of W.S. Neal who lives in Montgomery, plans to watch the Eagles in action in the semifinals against Trinity and next week in the state finals in Montgomery.
“I am very excited to have a chance to go out and support these young men this Friday,” he said. “I am also looking forward to them coming back to Montgomery next week for state finals.”
Danny Parker coached the Eagle baseball team and guided the Eagles to the state semifinals in 1989 and 1990 — the last time the Eagles made it this far in the playoffs.
“The 1989 and 1990 teams had very similar characteristics,” he said. “I think we might have had a little more power in the middle of our order. In 1990, St. Paul’s beat us 2-1 in game one. We beat them 15-8 in the nightcap, and they won 8-5. They lost in the championship game to Rogers. In 1989 we lost in three games to eventual state champions Thomasville. Coach Wes Sessions, head coach at Flomaton, was on that team. I have coached all of the starters on this year’s team except two in regular season or all-stars in Little League. They are a fine group of athletes as their record shows. They play as a team, which makes them that much better. They pick each other up; when one’s having a bad night, someone else steps up. Just another thing that great teams do.”
Sharmon O’Bannon said she taught the players on this year’s team when they were in sixth grade.
“I haven’t been to the games this year, but I try to get out to see my kids present and past as much as possible,” she said. “I am beside myself for my boys. Nothing makes me happier than seeing them successful. As I watched them in the rain Friday night, I couldn’t help thinking of them as children in my room. I know their stories, how they’ve struggled or overcome obstacles in their way. These boys are the epitome of what a team is. I was so proud for my son to get the chance to see them play, work together, and pull that win out in the rain. What a nail biter. I heard more ladies say to their sons ‘watch and learn boys.’
“I love these boys, win or lose, and I pray they continue to dazzle the state with their skills.”
T.R. Miller fans have even been seen at games this year after the Tigers saw their season end this year. Even Flomaton fans have been spotted at W.S. Neal games this year.
Steve Layton is a former Miller baseball player.
“I’m proud for the W.S. Neal program and what it has accomplished not only for their school but also for the sport of baseball in the greater Brewton area,” he said.
Mary Thomas Brown said she would also be pulling for the Eagles of East Brewton.
“My sons Chandler and Brooks played Babe Ruth with some of these boys and then played against them in high school,” she said. “Off the field they remain friends and we are cheering for them to go all the way and come home state champs.”
Baxley Raines is a former T.R. Miller Tiger athlete on the football and baseball field.
“I’ve played a lot of sports at a lot of different levels but nothing compares to the level of competition and rivalry between Miller and Neal,” Raines said. “As a proud Miller Tiger, congrats to W.S. Neal and I hope they continue with their dream of a state ring. At the end of the day, it is still one community where we all share neighboring backyards, sporting facilities, relatives and other things, so my support goes out to them.”
W.S. Neal will travel to Trinity Friday for a 1 and 3:30 p.m. game in the state semifinals. If the two teams split, a noon game on Saturday will take place.
With a win in the semifinals, W.S. Neal will play for the state championship in Montgomery against the winner of the Plainview/Mars Hill or Piedmont semifinal game.