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.