Linden burst onto map at Class 1A state track meet

Tyroneisha Charleston sits back and relaxes after a day in which she won four medals at the Class 1A state track meet.

The Linden High track team is still riding high off a successful run at the Class 1A state meet earlier this month. The Patriot girls finished fourth out of 31 teams at the meet including five medals as a team.

Sophomore Tyroneisha Charleston starred at the meet, taking home four medals on the day. She took gold in the 100 meter dash with a time of 12.57. Charleston also took bronze in the high jump with a mark of 4-10 and bronze in the long jump with a finish of 14-11.75.

The Linden girls 4×100 relay team of Tyroneisha Charleston, Tomysha Boykin, Tameria Aldridge and Jakaria Miller celebrate after winning gold at the Class 1A state track meet.

Charleston also won gold as part of the 4×100 relay team that included Tomysha Boykin, Tameria Aldridge and Jakaria Miller. The team had a time of 51.48 seconds, more than a second ahead of the silver medalists.

The Linden girls also won gold in the 4×400 relay team with a squad that included Aldridge, Boykin, Miller and Jakaria Miller who finished with a time of 4:23.04.

The Linden boys finished fourth out of 26 teams with a performance that included medals in three events Charles Blackmon took silver in the 110 meter hurdles. Kevin Green finished second in the long jump. Roderick Dansby, Jaevius Smith, Blackmon and Green combined to win gold in the 4×100.


Harris becomes first Demopolis Division I track signee

Darnesha Harris signs her National Letter of Intent to compete for the University of South Alabama track team as her mother, Katrina Chambers, and grandmother, Annie Harris, look on.

Darnesha Harris’s track coaches at Demopolis High School can barely contain their emotions when they talk about their senior standout.

“She’s one of a kind. You don’t come across an athlete like this every day,” Deborah Boykin, who has coached Harris in indoor and outdoor track events, said.

Harris has spent five years in the Demopolis High varsity track program but reached her greatest milestone to date Wednesday when she signed a National Letter of Intent and officially collected a track scholarship from the University of South Alabama.

“I was really excited about the opportunity for her. I’m really proud of her. No one in my family has complete college except for my sister got her two-year degree just last week. So it’s really exciting for me,” Katrina Chambers, Harris’s mother, said during a signing ceremony in the DHS library Wednesday morning. “She has been talented from day one. It’s like she breathes track. I try to talk to her about other things, but that’s what is really in her heart. She loves track.”

Darnesha Harris (center) is flanked by her mother Katrina Chambers and grandmother Annie Harris in addition to being joined by DHS track coaches Rodney Rowser and Deborah Boykin as well as athletic director Tony Pittman.

For Harris, the interest in track grew into a full-blown passion early in her Tiger career.

“It was kind of in the ninth grade when I made it to state in the 400 meter and I called my mom crying because I wasn’t able to run. My 10th grade year, I just wanted to come back. I came back my 10th grade year and I won third place in two events that I had just started,” Harris recalled. “About my 10th grade year, everything started to sink in. You don’t take things seriously when you first get to high school, but you keep practicing and practicing and you just realize, ‘Okay, I’m really good at that. I need to start taking it more serious because I can actually get somewhere.’”

A multi-sport athlete at Demopolis High School, Harris was a starter on the girls basketball team but knew what awaited her at the conclusion of the season. With strong interest already being shown by collegiate track programs, Harris committed herself to improving upon her time in a specific event with the goal of improving her options.

“I was like, ‘Okay. Okay. I’m going to set it down. I’m going to keep doing better. Maybe I can get better offers.’ Sometimes, I know if you keep getting your time down, they’ll start offering you more. So, each track meet, I tried to get a (personal record) and just tried to make myself better so I could get more offers,” Harris said of her mentality following the receipt of her first offer.

One offer already in hand, Harris set her sights on reaching a new personal best in one specific event. She needed a 44-second time in the 300 meter hurdles.

“It was our last home track meet and it was a 44.83,” Harris said of the day she reached her lofty goal. “Nobody else would probably understand because they think 45s and 46s are good, but the lower your time the better. That’s when more colleges want you. That’s when more offers start to come in.”

Offers followed rather quickly. Harris spent much of the past month deliberating between offers from Troy and South Alabama.

“I just felt that the coaches were more caring at South. They knew what they wanted me to do. They had everything together. They were more organized. They told me what they wanted to do. They gave me my offer. They didn’t waste any time trying to get to me,” Harris said of her decision.

In accepting the offer from South Alabama, Harris becomes the first Demopolis High School athlete to sign a Division I track scholarship.

“Everyday when she came to practice, you saw it in her. She was the first one out there and she was strong for the whole practice,” Boykin said. “When the weather wasn’t good or she wasn’t feeling well, she led the team. She’s just an all-around athlete.”

“Great, hard-working individual that can help any team. She will be truly missed here,” Rodney Rowser, who has coached Harris since the eighth grade, said of the Jaguars’ latest signee.

Harris’s career at Demopolis culminated May 7 at the state track meet, where she finished second among Class 5A girls in the 100 meter hurdles with a time of 15.19, just one 100th of a second behind her state champion teammate Ashleigh Ivory. That race saw Harris get her cleat stuck in the starting block, resulting in her being the last competitor to get running. Still, perhaps more remarkable than getting stuck in the block and finishing second in the state is the story of her winning an indoor state championship earlier this year.

“She played a (basketball) game Thursday night. Friday morning, went to Birmingham. She came to me crying after her race. She said, ‘Coach Rod, I ran the worst race I ever ran.’ She came back home Friday and played another game. Came back to Birmingham Saturday morning. It was rough for me to tell her, ‘Darnesha, just go and compete.’ But that’s not her. She wants to go and win,” Rowser explained. “I told her, ‘Baby, look, we haven’t worked on hurdles all year. Let’s just go and get ready for outdoor season. But one thing I want you to do, when they call you over, I want you to keep moving. I went down to check on her after I told her to keep moving. I looked in her eyes and I said, ‘She’s not going just to compete. She’s going to win.’ She had the worst lane on the track.”

Harris went on to win the indoor state championship in the 60 meter hurdles despite not having practiced the event and having been in the middle of basketball season. But the feat came as no surprise to Rowser or Boykin, who each rave about the natural fluidity with which Harris has always competed.

“She came over in the eighth grade. I was sitting there watching her and I thought, ‘Who is this skinny girl?’ She was doing all these drills we do and so fluent. From that day, you could see it. It was just amazing,” Rowser said.

“She came out and did these hurdles with just incredible natural ability,” Boykin said. “She is amazing. When she is doing a 400 and she’s got someone in front of her, she’s like a predator. She keeps going and she’s so focused. It’s amazing to watch her.”

With the ink now dried on her letter of intent, Harris shifts her focus to readying for the next phase of her sprinting career.

“I have to be more serious about everything. I have to watch what I eat. I have to change my lifestyle, because if I want to be great, then I have to do what it takes to be great,” Harris said, noting that the impending challenge of extending the distance in her hurdles event dictates the need for improvements in her game. “Maybe just my strength in my arms and my legs. That would mainly just be trying to help me fight through the last 100 meters of my 400 hurdles. That’s what I need to work on.”

Boykin, Cox receive Student-Athlete of the Year honors

The West Alabama Watchman and the Marengo County Parks and Recreation Board hosted the second annual Marengo County Student-Athlete of the Year Banquet Monday night.

In a fun-filled evening that featured Eli Gold as the guest speaker, hundreds gathered in the fellowship hall of Linden Baptist Church to celebrate 12 award finalists from throughout the county.

The Female Student-Athlete of the Year Award went to Linden High School senior Tomysha Boykin. As a student, Boykin is unmatched in the halls of Linden High. She boasts a 4.0 GPA and a 25 ACT to go along with her valedictorian status and was the Class 1A, Region 2 winner of the Bryant-Jordan Student-Athlete Achievement Award.

Her non-athletic extracurricular involvements have ranged from class president to vice president of the Beta Club to the LHS-UWA STEM Team.

At the top of her class is one thing, but the diminutive dynamo has excelled at three sports in her varsity career. A rotational player in both volleyball and basketball since the seventh grade, Boykin turned in her best seasons as a senior. She averaged five kills, six digs, six aces and a block per game in volleyball. In basketball, she helped her squad to a 22-5 season while averaging 16.1 points, 5.3 assists and 6.1 steals per contest. She also earned ASWA Third Team All-State honors as well as First Team All-County.

Yet, it may actually be track where the future UAB student shined the most as a senior. She was a state qualifier in the 100-meter hurdles. And she owns two state championships as part of the 4×100 and 4×400 relay teams.

Other finalists for the award included Marengo Academy’s Macey Petrey, Marengo High’s LaVonyae Miller, A.L. Johnson’s Akayla McGhee, Sweet Water’s Lara Little and Demopolis High senior Abbey Latham.

The Male Student-Athlete of the Year Award went to Demopolis High School’s R.J. Cox. Cox will play his college baseball with MUW out of Columbus, Mississippi, allowing him the opportunity to help the school build its baseball program from the ground up. He finished his senior season with a .333 average and 22 RBIs as well as a 5-2 record on the mound to go along with a 2.42 ERA and 43 strikeouts over 43 innings.

Cox is also a three-year starter at linebacker for the Demopolis High football team and earned West Alabama Watchman All-County honors in both sports for three consecutive years.

But athletics come nowhere close to being the entirety of Cox’s resume. His tenure at DHS has included National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, DECA, Student Council, National Academy of Finance and Beta Club. He also earned the community service endorsement.

The Class 5A, Region 4 winner of the Bryant-Jordan Student-Athlete Achievement Award, Cox finishes with a 4.2 GPA.

Other finalists included A.L. Johnson’s Deandre Croom, Linden’s C.J. Robinson, Marengo High’s Roosevelt Thompson, Marengo Academy’s Weldon Aydelott and Sweet Water standout Flynn Mabowitz.

The Marengo County Parks and Recreation Board awarded $500 each to the athletic departments of Linden High and Demopolis High as part of the prize package for the winners.

Petrey, Latham split Watchman Player of the Year honors

Macey Petrey

For only the second time, the West Alabama Watchman has co-players of the year in a sport as SEC signees Abbey Latham and Macey Petrey each posted career years in leading their teams to strong seasons.

Petrey, a Mississippi State signee, shined as Marengo Academy’s shortstop with a .940 fielding percentage to go along with the best offensive season of her career. She hit a robust .543 on the season to go along with 10 homers, 29 doubles, three triples, 73 RBIs, 36 stolen bases and 61 runs scored. Most importantly, she led her team on a remarkable run through the postseason that culminated in the Longhorns winning the AISA, Class A state championship.

Abbey Latham

Latham earns Player of the Year honors for the third consecutive season after propelling her team to a 36-13 season with a tremendous season that includes a .605 batting average, 19 homers, 15 doubles, five triples, 16 stolen bases and 61 runs scored. The Tiger catcher and Ole Miss signee also drove in 74 runs on the season.

Coach of the Year honors go to Marengo Academy’s Chris Petrey, who stunned the AISA by escorting the Longhorns to the state championship well before most around the circuit expected such a return to prominence. Petrey’s team finished 26-19 on the season and put it all together at the right time in the state tournament, including a victory over nemesis Patrician after having lost to the Saints seven times in 2017. Petrey navigated a squad that included a seventh grade catcher at the cleanup spot and a freshman second baseman and eighth grade leftfielder filling out the top two spots in the order.

During the Longhorns’ state tournament run, Petrey nearly pushed every button flawlessly all the down to winning the coin toss for the final game and choosing to be the visiting team. His squad scored three runs in the top of the first inning. Then he inserted a freshman in the pitcher’s circle with the bases loaded and nobody out despite her not having thrown a single warmup pitch the entire weekend. She went on to allow one hit over seven innings of work for the win.

The West Alabama Watchman 2017 All-County Softball Team consists of:

C – Abbey Latham, Demopolis

1B – Bria Brown, Demopolis

2B – Elly Brown, Demopolis

3B – Courtney Smith, Demopolis

SS – Macey Petrey, Marengo Academy

OF – Kayla Marshall, Sweet Water

OF – Lara Little, Sweet Water

OF – Riley Newton, Marengo Academy

OF – Hannah Freeman, Marengo Academy

P – Natalie Tatum, Demopolis

P – Thea Luker, Sweet Water

P – Kayla Montz, Demopolis

DP – Natalie Luker, Sweet Water

UTIL – Kora Myers, Sweet Water

UTIL – Sara Irvin, Sweet Water

UTIL – Kendall Hannah, Demopolis

UTIL – Mary Grace Sheffield, Marengo Academy

UTIL – Trinity Wilkinson, Marengo Academy

Sweet Water sweeps Watchman baseball awards

When you go 14-2 on the mound along with three saves and just happen to hit the walk-off single to win your school’s first state championship in 27 years, it’s just about a no-brainer that you’ll be the Player of the Year. Such is the case for Sweet Water junior Jonah Smith.

He was Marengo County’s top player from wire to wire in 2017, dominating on the mound over 88 and a third innings of work. He struck out 123 batters against only 20 walks with a stunningly low 1.11 ERA. Smith’s exploits on the pitching rubber became the stuff of local lore during the Class 1A state champs’ playoff run as Smith and his 89 mile-per-hour stuff picked up game one wins against Sumiton Christian, Brantley and Ragland in consecutive rounds only to come back and pitch in relief in game two of each series. Against reigning champion Decatur Heritage in the state finals, Smith was little less than dazzling as he set down 14 consecutive batters at one point. Smith also lacked very little at the plate, hitting .372 on the season with 11 doubles, eight triples, 37 RBIs and 29 runs scored.

While Smith is the 2017 West Alabama Watchman Baseball Player of the Year, honors for Coach of the Year go to John Gluschick of Sweet Water. Gluschick had his team in the Top 3 of the ASWA Class 1A standings all season long. That season, which was one for the ages for the Bulldogs, ended with Sweet Water at 32-8 and holding the Class 1A state championship.

The 2017 West Alabama Watchman All-County Baseball Team is as follows:

C – Weldon Aydelott, Marengo Academy

1B – David Dunn, Marengo Academy

2B – Chandler Barton, Demopolis

3B – Chance Broussard, Sweet Water

SS – Davis Petrey, Marengo Academy

OF – Charles Casper, Demopolis

OF – Sasha Smith, Sweet Water

OF – Will Huckabee, Sweet Water

OF – DeDe Davis, Demopolis

DH –Hunter Mendenhall, Sweet Water

DH – Jacob Beck, Marengo Academy

UTIL – Brad Collins, Marengo Academy

UTIL – Braiden Broussard, Sweet Water

UTIL – Jonathan Lewis, Demopolis

P – Jonah Smith, Sweet Water

P – Hunter Colyar, Demopolis

P – Austin Day, Marengo Academy

P – R.J. Cox, Demopolis

Tigers get first on-field action of Seymore era

Alexander Besteder breaks into the open on a long run Friday night. Besteder finished the night with 135 yards and two touchdowns on seven carries.

The result is not recorded and the stats do not count but the win certainly mattered to the players on the field Friday night in Demopolis High’s spring football game against Class 6A Northridge.

After the Jaguars connected on a 33-yard field goal with 47.2 seconds to go in the varsity half of the contest to take a 10-7 lead, Demopolis put together a clutch drive to win the game 13-10. Andrew Patterson hit A.J. Jackson for a 27-yard gain on a screen pass before later dishing to Brandon Simmons for a 17-yard pickup. Patterson dumped off to Jackson again for a 4-yard scamper on a screen before a facemask penalty against Northridge tacked on 15 more yards. After an ineligible receiver downfield incurred a flag against the Tigers, Patterson dropped a pass right in the waiting arms of a wide open receiver in the end zone only to watch the pass bounce off the turf as the clock wound down to 0.1 seconds remaining.

Patterson proceeded to take the final snap of the game, survey the field and throw to the right pylon where fellow senior Jeremy Jackson hauled in the pass and stepped into the end zone for the touchdown.

Myles Jones (28) and C.J. Williams close in on Northridge receiver Trip Daniels.

“I saw my quarterback signal me for a fade. I just ran the fade, he laid it up there to me, I caught it,” the senior receiver said. “I thought I was out. I saw I wasn’t out. I just stuck my foot over that pylon. I saw them throw their hands up. I knew we had gotten the W. It was great. That was my first ever touchdown.”

“I love my receivers. The O-line protected for me. I was able to make a good throw. My boy Jeremy came down with the catch,” Patterson added.

While the end result will not be reflected on the Tigers’ record, head coach Brian Seymore was pleased with the way his team handled the situation with which they were faced at the end of the contest.

“I think that’s what you look for too. I think that’s what you play for. They raised their intensity. They made their field goal. Their fans got jacked up, players got jacked up. I like the way our kids kind of stayed low key, kind of stayed reserved. You’ve got to execute. We got a big run by A.J. on the screen,” Seymore said. “We had another opportunity right here and had a drop. Blessed to have one tenth of a second left, we throw the fade ball to Jeremy. He goes up and makes a good catch and stays in bounds.”

Tyler Hale drags defenders on a run up the middle.

The varsity squad for both schools took the field for the second half, with Northridge opening the scoring before Demopolis got its starting defense to settle down and make plays.

“I don’t know if it was nerves, a little bit timid. We tried to stay base. We made some plays early. Of course, they scored the early touchdown,” Seymore said. “I think we finally settled down. We finally went back to our base defense. We just started playing base defense and let our kids get a feel for the game in the right positions and they started making some plays.”

When the defense did settle down, it proved an opportunistic unit. The Tigers got interceptions by Roderick Gaines and Russ Logan as well as a fumble recovery from Davian Williams and a sack by Erin White. Aaron Collier also showed himself well at safety, takin a sharp angle to chase down a Northridge ball carrier some 60 yards downfield to save a touchdown and hold the Jaguars to their late field goal chance.

Jeremy Jackson and DeDe Davis watch the junior varsity portion of the Friday’s Jamboree game. The duo accounted for both of Andrew Patterson’s touchdown passes during the varsity portion of the night.

“There’s so much time for us to improve on things, find some other kids that can help us in different areas. There’s so many things that there is room to grow on,” Seymore said. “We had five coaches on the sideline tonight, so we’re still filling a staff. There’s so many areas for us to improve, but I think we’ll have a pretty good football team by the fall.”

The varsity offense found its rhythm with Patterson behind center. The senior signal-caller threw for 155 yards and two touchdowns in only two quarters during his first trial run within Seymore’s offensive system.

“It’s been rough, the adjustments, all the calls and everything. But I got it down good for the spring game,” Patterson said. “I was just comfortable with dropping back. That’s my main thing I’m good at right there. I’m just comfortable with dropping back in the pocket and throwing.”

Trey Murdock watches the action Friday night.

“He threw the ball well,” Seymore said. “I thought he executed well. We are really just on the cusp of putting the offense in. We’ll open it up more as we get the summer to work with kids.”

Patterson’s first touchdown came on a 32-yard catch-and-run by DeDe Davis. Brandon Simmons led the Tiger receivers with 50 yards on three catches. A.J. Jackson added 44 yards on four receptions. Davis finished with 46 yards on two hauls.

“Schematically, it’s a whole new offense and a whole new defense. We’re on the cusp of doing some new things on both sides of the ball. We’re trying to keep it real basic,” Seymore, who was just took over as head coach in February, said. “You’ve got to win those balls. That’s something we’ve worked on every day at practice. We finally held onto one and it turned out real well.”

The night began with the junior varsity squads facing off, a confrontation that also favored Demopolis to the tune of a 28-7 half for the Tigers. Alexander Besteder showed off his running ability from the quarterback spot, amassing 135 yards rushing on only seven carries. He opened the night with a 64-yard touchdown run. After a Fred Haywood fumble recovery, Besteder flashed his arm talent by hitting C.J. Williams  for a 17-yard touchdown pass. Besteder later broke a 46-yard touchdown run near the end of the first quarter on a busted play in which he scooped a bad snap off the ground and weaved in, around and through the Jaguar defense for the score. The final touchdown of the half came when freshman Jim Lawler hit junior Tyquan Alston for a 17-yard scoring strike. Freshman kicker Malaki Simpson connected on all of his extra point opportunities in the game.

Brian Seymore and offensive coordinator Matt Mellown look on during the first half of Friday’s spring game against Northridge.

While the game is a far cry from where Demopolis figures to be come August, the Tigers are hopeful the momentum will carry forward into the summer and beyond.

“It meant a lot. Northridge is a 6A team. We’ve got to play two 7A teams this year. We know we can do it. We’ve just got to execute the right plays,” Patterson said of the significance of the spring jamboree win. “It’s only three or four plays that are going to make a difference in the game and we made that one play.”


Riverwalk-off: Dawgs take state (gallery)

Sweet Water walks off with Class 1A crown in dramatic fashion

Shamar Lewis begins his slide into home as teammate Jonah Smith looks on after hitting the single that won the game.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Sweet Water is a baseball state champion for the in 27 years after a thrilling finish Tuesday that saw the Bulldogs beat Decatur Heritage 8-7 in walk-off fashion.

Sweet Water trailed 7-6 in the bottom of the eighth when Chance Broussard opened the Sweet Water turn with a single to right field, a seminal moment for the junior who missed most of the season following Tommy John surgery.

“It was huge. Chance is great. We missed him,” Sweet Water head coach John Gluschick said of Broussard’s value to his team and the symmetry of his role in the critical moment of the season’s final inning. “As a pitcher, he is our No. 2. The great thing is we’re going to have him back next year. You could see his whole demeanor change when he got to play.”

Will Huckabee, Shamar Lewis and Trent Sams leap for joy after Sams and Lewis scored the game-tying and game-winning runs on Jonah Smith’s walk-off hit in Tuesday’s 8-7 victory over Decatur Heritage.

Two batters later, Shamar Lewis roped a flare to right to put the tying and winning runs aboard with only one out in the inning.

“Shamar has been big all year. When it’s on the line, he comes through,” Gluschick said.

The Bulldogs quickly turned to pinch runner Trent Sams to represent the tying run at second. After Sasha Smith dropped a perfectly-placed bunt single down the third base line to load them up, Jonah Smith stepped to the plate.

“We’ve had a couple of games like this. I just take it that God wants you to know that it’s Him as the reason we won. And He was with our team. I think that’s the reason He was making it dramatic at the end,” Luke Davis said. “I had faith in Jonah. He was obviously one of our best hitters.”

“Whenever Jonah got to the plate with a runner on third and less than two outs, we knew we were going to score. He was going to put it in play,” Gluschick said. “That was just icing on the cake right there, a base hit.”

Smith needed only one pitch to cap an unforgettable season. The Class 1A MVP reached out and flicked a hopper under the glove of a diving Decatur Heritage shortstop to plate Sams. Lewis touched third and never checked up, sliding into home to claim the Blue Map.

“We knew they loved throwing a curveball. I was just waiting for one to be hung. He hung it over the plate and I just hit a groundball between short and third,” Jonah Smith said. “When I saw the game-winning score, I just started crying and all the emotions came out.”

“I don’t think it has really sunk in yet. We’re going to enjoy the ride back home to Sweet Water, take that trophy back home,” Gluschick said. “I think it means a lot to the community. Not so much for us, but for the community. The community backs us up. In a small town, that’s what everybody lives for.”

Bulldog senior Will Huckabee receives the Class 1A state championship trophy from Marengo County Schools Superintendent and AHSAA central board member Luke Hallmark and turns to present it to his team.

The setup for the bottom of the eighth came in equally dramatic fashion. Decatur Heritage used two walks and a single to load the bases with only one out and the game tied 6-6. Jackson Keith hit a grounder to short that plated Stratton Orr from third for the 7-6 lead. Sweet Water mishandled the feed on the force play and had nothing to show for its efforts with the bases still loaded. Trace Lentz hit what appeared to by a sacrifice fly to center field to score the run from third for the 8-6 lead. The Bulldogs quickly called for pitcher Chase Joiner to step off and make the appeal to third. When Broussard caught the toss and stepped on the bag, the third base umpire signaled for the out, ending the inning with a double play.

“I was 90 percent sure. We saw him leave early. I went to the umpire. You don’t have to throw the ball, you can ask them and he didn’t answer me. Then I made them throw the ball and then he called him out,” Gluschick said. “We were sure. We keep an eye on things like that.”

Decatur Heritage battled its way back into the game in the top of the sixth, scoring five runs to climb out of what was previously a 6-0 hole.

Jonah Smith receives the Class 1A MVP trophy from Luke Hallmark.

Orr scored on an error to make it 6-2 before Garret Buckner singled in Jeff Hunter and Jackson Parker. Walker Jones scored on a throwing error to cut it to 6-5. The Eagles tied the game when Heath Bolton singled home Buckner to tie the game.

“We just battled. These guys battled all year and we faced adversity before. We knew coming into this series it was going to be tough,” Gluschick, whose team lost the second game of the series 2-1 earlier in the day, said. “They’re a good team. Fortunately, we ended up winning it. We prepared for this.”

Decatur Heritage’s first run came in the top of the fourth when Parker singled home Grayson Wakefield.

Sweet Water had its bats awake early to build a 6-0 lead. Will Huckabee scored on Hunter Mendenhall’s double in the top of the first. Brett Davis made it back-to-back doubles to plate Mendenhall for the 2-0 lead. Sweet Water moved it to 3-0 in the top of the second when John Thomas Etheridge hit a sacrifice fly to right to score Broussard for the 3-0 lead.

“We’ve been working hard. You keep on working hard and keep humble, you come through every now and then. I’m just glad I could help out the team and be a senior leader,” Mendenhall, who was 3-for-3 with two runs scored and one RBI in his final game, said. “All these years of hard work have finally played off, the last game I’ll ever play of baseball. I believe in every one of my guys. I told them in the bottom of the seventh inning if it stayed tied, it was a new game, 0-0 and I wouldn’t want to be with anybody else other than my teammates I had up there.”

The Bulldogs put together a three-run rally in the bottom of the third. Mendenhall singled and later scored on Broussard’s single to make it 4-0. Chastian Washington scored on Etheridge’s second sacrifice fly of the game. Broussard scored on an error for the 6-0 lead.

Senior reliever Chase Joiner notched the win after working two-thirds of an inning in the top of the eighth.

“Mainly, it was just fastballs,” Davis said of the pitch calling for Joiner when he took the ball amid dire circumstances. “He’s a senior. He kind of knew what was at stake, but he’s also experienced. He handled himself really well and he located like he was supposed to.”

Braiden Broussard allowed only two earned runs in over five and two-thirds innings for the Bulldogs.

Sweet Water (32-8) earns its ninth baseball state championship with the win.

Sweet Water falls in game two, game three awaits

Will Huckabee attempts to avoid a tag at home in the fourth inning against Decatur Heritage during a 2-1 loss in game two.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Sweet Water has one more chance to win its first baseball state championship since 1990 after a 2-1 loss to Decatur Heritage Tuesday morning.

With the Bulldogs leading the series 1-0, Decatur Heritage turned to its ace and Grayson Wakefield more than delivered. The senior allowed two hits over a complete game effort and struck out six for the win.

Sweet Water got all of its offense in the fourth inning when Jonah Smith and Will Huckabee opened the frame with back-to-back singles. Smith found himself on third with nobody out in the inning and broke for home on a Hunter Mendenhall grounder to third. Smith slid in under the tag to tie the game. Huckabee was later tagged out in a rundown on the way home.

Decatur Heritage opened the scoring in the second when Jeff Hunter reached on an error and Jackson Parker singled. Carter Sample reached on a fielder’s choice to load the bases with nobody out in the inning. Walker Jones hit a ball back up the middle but Sweet Water pitcher Sasha Smith knocked it down and threw home for the force out. Garrett Buckner then flew out to center to plate Parker for the 1-0 lead.

Decatur got the winning run across in the sixth when Stratton Orr entered the game as a courtesy runner following Trace Lentz’s leadoff walk. A sacrifice bunt from Wakefield moved the runner to second. Hunter’s walk and Parker’s single loaded the bases with only one out.

Sample hit a ball into the hole but shortstop Jonah Smith made a sliding stop to knock it down. He threw to third for the force out but Orr scored the go-ahead run.

Wakefield slammed the door with a 1-2-3 seventh for the win. Sasha Smith scattered three hits over five innings for the Bulldogs.

Sweet Water (31-8) and Decatur Heritage (23-12) are set to meet at approximately 11:45 for the decisive game three.

Smith subdues Decatur Heritage as Sweet Water takes game one

Jonah Smith moved to 14-2 on the season Monday with a 4-2 victory over Decatur Heritage in game one of the Class 1A State championship series. Smith struck out seven and allowed four hits in the contest.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. –  Jonah Smith gets more comfortable as the game goes along, a fact that proved true again as Sweet Water beat Decatur Heritage 4-2 in game one of the Class 1A State Championship Monday.

“The first of the game, I was struggling to throw strikes. As the game went on, I got more consistent at finding the strike zone,” Smith, who struck out seven and seven and gave up four hits and two earned runs

“It was just the fastball. We’re going to let them hit the fastball and there in the seventh, they did,” Sweet Water coach John Gluschick said. “The top of the lineup is pretty good. He can throw strikes. We can work that breaking ball over and then we’ll be just fine.”

The Eagles got on Smith in the second inning when Jackson Parker opened with a single before Carter Sample repeated the feat to put runners on the corners. Smith settled in and induced a groundball up the middle that resulted in a 6-4-3 double play. Parker scored on the play but the rally was effectively nullified.

“We take so much pride in our defense,” shortstop Braiden Broussard said of the double play that settled the game for his starting pitcher. “It’s just fundamentals at that point. I don’t think about it. The ball is hit to me, I round it off, give him a good feed.”

The double play started a string of 14 consecutive batters retired by Smith, who struck out the final batter of the inning for the exclamation point.

Shamar Lewis scores the final Sweet Water run of the game on a passed ball in the sixth inning. Lewis notched two hits in the contest.

“He got key strikeouts and he had that confidence. He threw the ball hard. Nothing we haven’t seen before,” Decatur Heritage’s Grayson Wakefield said. “He had his stuff. Guys have those kind of days. I’ll give him props. He’s a good pitcher and good pitchers do that kind of stuff.”

The 1-0 Decatur Heritage lead evaporated in the bottom of the third when the Bulldogs scratched out a pair of runs. Sasha Smith reached on a fielder’s choice and later scored on an error of the bat of Will Huckabee to tie the game. Chastian Washington entered the game as a courtesy runner and scored on Hunter Mendenhall’s sacrifice fly to center for the 2-1 lead.

For his part, Decatur Heritage starting pitcher Clay Shaw was not shaken by the moment. He went six innings and struck out three while scattering eight hits and walking only one.

Sweet Water (31-7) added to its lead in the third when Broussard reached on a fielder’s choice and scored on a passed ball. Shamar Lewis singled in the sixth and later scored on a passed ball for the 4-1 lead. The run highlighted a two-hit day for Lewis after he scuffled in the semifinal round against Ragland.

“Coach and them made me work off the tee, start all the way over,” Lewis said of his work since last Wednesday’s semifinal wins over Ragland.

Decatur Heritage found its sticks in the top of the seventh when Grayson Wakefield and Jeff Hunter singled to open the frame before Parker took a beanball to load the bases with nobody out.

“We’re a good hitting team. I hope you see that tomorrow. We’ve been a good hitting team all throughout the playoffs,” Decatur Heritage coach Steve Meek said. “For us not to hit, it’s not the stage. I’m going to give him the credit. He did it.”

“Jitters is so big on this kind of stage and stuff. I guess we kind of knocked the jitters off late. We didn’t have anything to lose. We were down 4-1,” Wakefield said.

Smith (14-2) struck out the next batter he faced and forced a pair of fly balls to Huckabee in right field to end the game. The final Eagle run came when Wakefield scored on Walker Jones’s sacrifice fly to right.

Scott Luker and John Gluschick shake hands following Sweet Water’s game one win Monday.

“We’ve got a great team. They fight and they don’t ever give up,” Gluschick said. “Prime example, we’ve got bases loaded, no outs and we got out of it.”

“He has done that every game I’ve seen him. He can go get it out there. He can really play,” Meek said of Huckabee, who caught four balls in right field including a highlight reel grab that robbed an extra-base hit. “That ball against 90 percent of the teams we play probably goes to the fence and clears the bases. He’s just a really good outfielder. He can go get them.”

The contest saw more hits than the teams’ first meeting, which came on March 3. In that game, Smith allowed no hits over five and two-thirds innings of work and struck out 11. Shaw only allowed four hits in the regular season tilt.

“He pitched against us March 3 when we played them. We saw him two weeks ago against Brantley and last week against Ragland. Then we saw him again today. He’s a quality pitcher,” Meek said. “There’s no rollercoaster with him. When he’s on, he’s going to pound the strike zone. If you hit him, you hit him. He’s a quality pitcher.”

“I think it helped a lot,” Gluschick said of the familiarity his team gained with DHCA during their March meeting. “I mean, they threw the same guy that we saw there and we did too. We threw our best when we went up there. We knew a lot about him. We weren’t coming into a game blind. It really helped a lot.”

Tuesday’s 10 a.m. game two promises to bring something a little different as each team will show the other a different starting pitcher. Wakefield will take the hill for Decatur.

“They haven’t seen our sticks yet and they haven’t faced Grayson this year, so they don’t know what he’s got,” DHCA’s Jackson Parker said. “He throws the ball well and consistently for strikes. We’re a lot better hitting team than we showed today. He struck us out seven times and we don’t do that.”

“We’ve seen good pitching: Sumiton, Brantley and we’ll probably see a great one tomorrow,” Gluschick said. “We’re just going to try to battle, win every at-bat at the plate. Whatever it takes, walk, hit-by-pitch. We’re going to battle at the plate and see what happens. We’re not going to get our self out.”