By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
WEST POINT —
If there’s anyone Dalton Looney feels comfortable handing the ball off to for the final three outs, it’s Wesley Waters.
Looney kept West Point alive on the mound for the first six innings of Friday night’s Cullman County Baseball Tournament championship, and Waters took care of the last one, striking out two Fairview batters and inducing a groundout to secure a 7-3 victory.
“I knew he had it. I mean, he’s the Wallace State signee, baby,” Looney said with a mile-wide grin before high-fiving Waters in celebration.
The county title is the Warriors’ first since 2011. They’d been itching to bring the trophy back home after having it snatched away last season.
“Ever since last year when we lost to Vinemont, that’s been the one thing that’s been in all of our heads,” Waters said. “During the offseason, we made it a goal that we were going to win the county tournament.”
Looney’s first inning on the hill was anything but easy. He walked Cody Edge, beaned Trent Shoemaker and then watched Edge come in to score on an infield error before walking Bryant Powers to load the bases.
Instead of panicking, Looney found a way to buckle down, striking out the next three batters in order. The first two went down looking, while the last connected on nothing but air.
“It was a rough start, very nerve-racking,” Looney said. “I just knew I had to throw strikes, and I did.”
West Point (7-1) put its first run on the scoreboard in the bottom of the second inning. After opening the frame with a single to right field, Bryant Farley swiped second base and advanced to third on a bunt hit by Will Wrenn. Cameron Brock then knocked in Farley with a groundout to the shortstop.
The Warriors proceeded to knock in two more runs the following inning, one on a double by Waters and the second on a sacrifice fly by Wesley Smith.
The Aggies were still down by two heading into the fifth, but they definitely weren’t out, responding with an RBI single from Maison Smith and an RBI double by Shoemaker to even the score at 3-3, where it remained until the bottom of the sixth inning.
“I was getting a little worried there,” Waters said.
The concerns quickly subsided, however, as Brock jumpstarted the inning with a walk, and Tate Duckett moved him over with a perfectly placed bunt. From there, the West Point bats came alive, with Jordan McKenzie and Ryder Jones slugging back-to-back RBI doubles. Waters and Looney joined in the fun, each pitching in one-run singles to put the ballgame away.
“All of a sudden, it was bang, bang, bang, and then we score four,” Warrior coach Trai Meadows said. “I’m proud of them. That’s how you play the game of baseball.”
Shoemaker had an exceptional start for Fairview, going toe-to-toe with Looney for 5 1/3 innings. He finished with six strikeouts after closing the second and fourth innings with consecutive K’s.
“I’ve got to give coach (Curt) Alexander and his staff credit,” Meadows said. “Fairview’s a tough team. They’re a scrappy bunch, good-looking team, fundamentally good.”
The two teams traded a pair of defensive highlights in the fifth and sixth innings. West Point’s Wrenn caught a Luke Bailey popup in right field and gunned Shoemaker down when he tried to tag up and advance to third.
The Aggies’ Austin Earwood answered back with his own gem, grabbing a Farley flyout in right field and throwing out Smith just in the nick of time at home.
Not long after, Waters mowed down Fairview’s final three batters with relative ease. It’s safe to say Meadows had every bit of confidence his ace would close out the championship contest.
“After we got four runs, he was closing,” Meadows said. “He’s money.”
% Fairview 13, Vinemont 2: The Aggies’ first four batters — Edge, Shoemaker, Bailey and Powers — combined for a 12-of-16 outburst to vault the Purple and Gold into the title tilt.
Bailey was an out-of-this-world 4 for 4 with three RBIs, crushing two of his three doubles in Fairview’s nine-run fourth inning. Powers was 3 for 4 with his own trio of RBIs, Edge was 3 for 4 and Shoemaker roped two hits in four at-bats.
Lane Denny contributed an RBI single for the Aggies, Devon Parker hit a double and Jake Chandler had a single.
Edge earned the victory with five strikeouts in a five-inning complete-game effort.
Riley Foust led the Eagles with two hits, while Teddy Drake and Nathan Persall each had one apiece. Both of Vinemont’s runs came on a throwwing error in the second inning.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.