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.”