Wildcats end historic baseball season at semi-finals in Sweet Water

Published 11:00 am Thursday, May 16, 2024

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Florala came up short to Sweet Water in three games, 3-2, 13-1, and 7-3, in the semi-final round of the 1A state baseball playoffs on Wednesday, May 8, and Thursday, May 9.

The Wildcats recorded their best season in school history and finished with a 25-3 record.

Game 1: Florala 3, Sweet Water 2
Easton Walsh and Noah Bryan walked with two outs in the top of the first inning. Starting pitcher William Norris ended the frame with a strikeout. Ethan Carr earned a two-out triple in the bottom half, but Cody Walsh stranded him there for a scoreless opening inning.

Norris worked around a two-out walk to Kaden Cantrell but hung another zero with a flyout. Evan Dunn singled in the home half as the pitching duel continued when C. Walsh induced a flyout at the end of two innings.

Dalton Jackson led off the visiting third with a single, and C. Walsh followed suit before E. Walsh walked and loaded the bases. Florala could not break through after a lineout and double play closed the frame. Sweet Water dented the scoreboard first with a run in the home half. Timothy Kelley opened with a double and scored on an RBI groundout by Parker Townsend. C. Walsh then struck out Norris and recorded a pop-up to keep the score 1-0 after three innings.

Neither team scored in the fourth or fifth innings. Jacob Laura walked with one out in the sixth and advanced to second on a passed ball. Ayden Brooks drew the Wildcats even at 1-1 with an RBI double and scored Laura. The Bulldogs put the go-ahead run on board in their half as the game remained tied with six innings completed.

Florala mounted a two-out rally in the top of the seventh. C. Walsh walked before a pitch hit E. Walsh. Noah Bryan reached on a defensive miscue that kept the frame alive. Reliever Sammie Walker took over on the mound and thwarted the rally with a big out and sent the game to the bottom of the seventh. Townsend started the home half with a single and took second on an error. A wild pitch sent Townsend to third, but C. Walsh escaped the threat and sent the game into extra innings.

Jackson came up with a clutch two-out single in the top of the eighth and drove home pinch runner Greyson West. Cantrell gave the Wildcats some breathing room with an insurance run off an error for a 3-1 lead. Jackson took over on the mound as the Bulldogs would not go quietly. A double, single, and walk loaded the bases with no outs. Jackson struck out Nicholas Henson for the first out. Payton Averette came home on a wild pitch and closed the score to 3-2. E. Walsh then struck out Timothy Kelley, and Delvontae Lucy was caught stealing home for the final out.

Jackson went 2-for-4 with an RBI to lead Florala at the plate in the opening game. C. Walsh and Brooks were both 1-for-2. C. Walsh allowed one run and five hits with six strikeouts over seven innings for the win, while E. Walsh earned the save. Townsend paced Sweet Water at 2-for-4 and had an RBI.

Game 2: Sweet Water 13, Florala 1
Townsend and Norris reached on back-to-back errors in the opening inning of the second game. E. Walsh battled back with a pop-up, pickoff at first, and groundout and ended the inning as the Bulldogs could not score. The Wildcats went in order in their half to keep the game locked in a scoreless tie after one.

Averette got the second inning going with a single. However, E. Walsh showed his heat and struck out the side. Bryan walked in the bottom of the second and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Laura. Brooks and Preston Truman followed with consecutive hit batters and loaded the bases. Cantrell was also hit by a pitch and brought Bryan to the plate for a 1-0 lead. David Etheridge kept the score there after two strikeouts capped the second inning.

Following a scoreless third, Sweet Water grabbed the lead in the top of the fourth inning. Henson evened the score at 1-1 with an RBI single. Norris reached on a two-out miscue as Dunn scored for a 2-1 lead. Florala could not put a base runner aboard in its half and left the score 2-1 after four innings.

The Bulldogs broke the game open with a seven-spot in their half of the fifth. Rayshon Coleman started the bottom half with a single for the Wildcats before a double play and groundout ended the frame. The score stayed 9-1 when both teams were retired 1-2-3 in the sixth.

Sweet Water pushed across four more runs in the top of the seventh inning and evened the series at a game apiece when Florala went quietly in its half.

Coleman was 1-for-2 and had the only hit, while the Wildcats used four different pitchers in the contest. Averette, Walker, and Henson all led the Bulldogs with 2-for-5 showings. Etheride had the complete-game win and gave up one run with five strikeouts. That set the stage for a winner-take-all game 3.

Game 3: Sweet Water 7, Florala 3
The third and final game started the same way as the first two with neither side scoring in the first.

A walk to Laura started the top of the second, but Florala had two flyouts and could not score. Sweet Water took a 1-0 lead when Dunn brought in Etheridge who was hit by a pitch. Jackson struck out Henson and left the score 1-0 at the end of two innings.

C. Walsh earned a two-out single and hustled to third on an error in the outfield. E. Walsh was intentionally walked, and the move worked when a pop-up ended the threat. Townsend walked in the home half and stole second before an error sent him to third. Norris reached on an infield single and pushed the lead to 2-0 at the end of three innings.

Dawson Reeves had a single in the top of the fourth but was the only base runner from either side in a scoreless frame for both teams.

The Wildcats finally broke through in their half of the fifth. Coleman started the rally with a single and went to third on a double from C. Walsh. Another intentional walk to E. Walsh set up a force, but Bryan cut the deficit to 2-1 on the play. Laura cashed in a huge two-run double that plated C. Walsh and Bryan for a 3-2 lead. The Bulldogs gained the advantage right back when Townsend had an RBI single for the tie. Carr then knocked another RBI single for a 4-3 lead. C. Walsh threw out a runner attempting to steal second, and the game moved to the sixth inning.

Reeves and Cantrell took back-to-back opening walks for the Wildcats in the top of the sixth. A fielder’s choice and two flyouts ended the frame. The Bulldogs stretched across three runs on a pair of doubles and grabbed a 7-3 lead with six innings complete.

One last rally attempt came in the seventh when Bryan reached on an error. Laura and Brooks walked and loaded the bases with one out. Henson worked back and recorded two straight outs to end the game.

C. Walsh was 2-for-4 with a run scored in the game. E. Walsh and Laura were both 1-for-2 as Reeves and Coleman each finished 1-for-3. Jackson threw all six innings for Florala. Dunn and Kelley each had 2-for-3 performances at the plate for Sweet Water. Jordan McManus picked up the win with five innings of work.

“I am so proud of these young men and what they were able to accomplish this season. Our coaching staff is most proud of our team for their character and resilience. They won and lost with class, listened, learned, and most importantly, they developed something here to stay at Florala: a winning culture. This group of players became one, playing for the Florala name on their jersey. They put a product on the field that made our entire city proud. This is not the end for our school as we will keep it going in the future and build off this year’s success,” Florala Head Coach Tyler Zessin said.