By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
WEST POINT —
Wesley Waters rarely gets frazzled on the mound, and although the West Point senior was certainly in a position to let a shaky start affect him on Thursday, the Warrior ace rose to the occasion once again.
Waters shrugged off an early run in the first inning, rallying to dominate Fairview's lineup as West Point defeated the Aggies 8-1 to advance to the championship game of the Cullman County Baseball Tournament.
"Wesley pitched a great game for us," coach Trai Meadows said. "He had a little bit of a rough start but was able to settle down a little and work through it. He really had both pitches working for him today."
The young fireballer found himself behind the eight-ball early, allowing his first two runners to reach via a hit by pitch and a single. An error by shortstop Dalton Looney followed, giving Fairview a quick 1-0 lead with runners on the corners and nobody out.
Waters buckled down, however, striking out the Aggies' next two batters before inducing an inning-ending groundout to avoid further damage.
The Warriors tied the game in the bottom of the frame on an opposite-field single from Looney that scored Ryder Jones, who drew a walk earlier in the inning.
An RBI-single from Will Wrenn spearheaded a two-run third inning for West Point, giving it a 3-1 cushion midway through the contest.
That score remained until the bottom of the fifth, when Looney launched a 3-run home run over the left field fence to give his team a commanding 6-1 lead.
"It was a big homer for us," Meadows said. "It really put us ahead and we never looked back. We had just got done talking about us leaving runners on base when he hit it."
The Warriors tacked on two more runs late, which was more than enough for Waters.
Following the first inning, the Wallace State signee went on to strike out the side in the second and third frames before allowing a leadoff infield single in the fourth. The hurler responded to that with two more strikeouts and a groundout to thwart any attempt by Fairview to make it a game.
"It seemed like everything was working for me today," Waters said. "I got more relaxed in the second inning and was really confident in my ability to throw my curveball in any count today. When my team gives me a lead, it becomes a lot easier to pitch."
Waters completed his five-inning day with 12 strikeouts, allowing just two hits and walking one. Jones pitched two innings of relief for West Point, striking out four batters, while allowing a couple of singles.
Looney's two hits and three RBI led his team at the plate, while Will Wrenn collected two hits to go along with a run and a stolen base. Wesley Smith and Waters tallied a hit and a run apiece, and Jordan McKenzie was good for single as well.
The win lifts the Warriors into the championship game on Friday at 6 p.m. They will play either Vinemont or Fairview.
"We just need to stay focused," Waters said. "Keep hitting and pitching strong."
The Aggies' Bryant Powers was the losing pitcher, allowing six runs (four earned) to go along with five strikeouts and three walks in four innings of work.
Luke Bailey, Jake Chandler, Powers and Trent Shoemaker provided Fairview's offense with one hit apiece.
% Vinemont 7, Hanceville 5: The defending-champion Eagles overcame six errors and received big-time hits to surge past the Bulldogs late in the game and keep their title hopes alive.
“That’s our third or fourth game like this so far this season,” coach Chad Shannon said. “Our kids know that Vinemont has a winning tradition. They play hard and find ways to win games.”
Hanceville got on the scoreboard first in the third inning, taking advantage of multiple Vinemont mistakes. The Bulldogs cashed in two runs off throwing errors from the Eagles’ second baseman and shortstop to take a 2-0 lead.
Coach Michael Chandler’s squad increased that lead in the fourth inning, once again capitalizing on several defensive miscues from Vinemont.
A throwing error from second baseman Nathan Persall and a misplayed ball at the hot corner by Blake Melton allowed three Hanceville players to cross to the plate in the frame, extending the Bulldogs’ advantage to 5-1.
Unfortunately for Hanceville, it all came apart in the fifth and sixth innings.
Pitcher Issac Hardin, who pitched four solid innings, issued a leadoff walk to Riley Foust before allowing RBI hits to Duncan Hopper (triple) and Ty Jones (single). Jones later stole home with two outs to cut the Eagles’ deficit to one.
The sixth frame was almost deja vu for the Bulldogs, as Hayden Loggins issued a walk to Foust and back-to-back hits to Hopper and Jones, the latter’s tying the game at 5-all.
From there, it was all Teddy Drake, as the sweet-swinging lefty belted a two-out, go-ahead double just over the right fielder’s glove to secure a victory for Vinemont.
“He’s worked hard on his swing and his defense,” Shannon said of his first baseman. “I’m proud of him. It just seems like it’s someone different for us every night.”
The Eagles will play Fairview at 4 p.m. today, with the winner moving on to the championship game against West Point immediately following at 6 p.m.
“These guys won’t have any problem getting up for tomorrow’s game,” Shannon added.
% Hanceville 8, Good Hope 2: The Bulldogs' title hopes briefly kept their tourney alive after a convincing victory over the Raiders in the consolation bracket.
Christian James threw a strong game for Hanceville, spreading out five hits over seven innings. He allowed two first-inning runs before retiring 18 of his final 22 batters. James struck out five and walked two batters.
The Bulldogs got the scoring going first on a opposite-field single from Keith Twitty that gave his a team a 1-0 advantage. Good Hope responded shortly after with back-to-back RBI singles from Johnson and Witcher to take a 2-1 lead.
It was short-lived, however, as Twitty punctuated a three-run second inning with a two-out, two-run double to left field.
The biggest hit of the game came in the fifth inning when Issac Weissand cleared the bases with a double into the left-center field gap to give Hanceville a commanding 8-2 cushion they didn't relinquish.
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 258 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.