Crowning moment

Middle school championship finishing stroke for Wildcats

The championship game was more coronation than contest.

After Friday, nothing was going to stop them.

The William Blount Wildcats jumped to an early lead and never looked back in run-ruling Clinton, 10-1, in the championship game of the Blount County Middle School Baseball Tournament last Friday at Eagleton Little League Park.

A five-run fourth-inning put it away for the Wildcats (15-2), who avenged a loss in last year’s title game to the Hawks with the romp. Coy Williams, Lane Bloom, Ben Cash, Tanner Thompson and Freddy Garcia all singled in the inning to end all doubt. William Blount, which didn’t commit an error defensively, edged its way steadily clear from the first inning on.

The championship was the culmination of a journey began a long ways back with a group that knew itself well, William Blount coach Kris Roberts said. Twelve of the Wildcats are eighth-graders.

“We started working with them in the sixth grade,” Roberts said. “We’ve been working with this group for three years.”

It helped make what had taken place only the night before all the more sweeter.

“That was the most exciting game I’ve ever been a part of,” Roberts said.

Alcoa had the Wildcats down to their last out in Friday’s winner’s bracket semifinal. The tension was heightened by the fact the Tornadoes had handed William Blount one of its two losses during the regular season. Clinton had dealt the Wildcats the other.

Swinging on the first pitch with the Wildcats down to their last out, Williams drove a towering home run over the trees behind left field to pull William Blount even at 5-all, sending the game to extra innings.

Three innings later, the 6-foot-2 eighth-grader singled to lead off the 10th. Three batters later, again with two out, Bloom delivered a clutch, walk-off double to score Williams to lift the Wildcats into the championship game.

The Williams blast and the game-winning RBI from Bloom were the highlights, but the tournament’s decisive clash had much more.

Wildcat starter Freddy Garcia limited the Tornadoes to two runs on one hit through four complete innings. With Williams on in relief to start the fifth, William Blount erased a 2-1 deficit in the bottom of the inning to take a 3-2 lead.

Undaunted, Alcoa powered back with a run in the sixth off a Zach Chapman single. Two more Tornado runs in the seventh from Nathan Waters and Chaz Vesser, and the Wildcats were facing relegation to the loser’s bracket, trailing 5-4 with half an inning to go.

The tying home run was part of a huge day that saw Williams go 4-for-5 at the plate in powering the William Blount attack. The Williams bomb marked the third time the Wildcats were forced to rally on the day. Michael Brown’s RBI double had pulled William Blount even at 1-1 after an inning.

Hunters Saunders doubled to lead off the Wildcat sixth, with Blake Rex singling him home to pull the Wildcats within one.

It took nine hits all told to get the Wildcats by the Tornadoes.

While the loss was disappointing, it was hard not to be proud of the way his team played, Alcoa assistant coach Ronnie Ramsey said. With coaching stints at both Alcoa High School and Maryville College, the Tornado assistant had high praise for the extra-inning epic.

“That was as good a game as I’ve ever been a part of,” Ramsey said, “and that includes the high school and the college.”

Come Saturday, there was little anyone could do to stop William Blount.

Alcoa had thrown its best pitching at the Wildcats on Friday. There wasn’t much left to hold off a charging Clinton team in the loser’s bracket final Saturday afternoon, with the Hawks scoring in their last at bat to advance.

The Wildcats are a big-hitting team even against an opponent’s best arms, Clinton coach Oliver Halouma said. The defending champion Hawks, who’d eliminated Eagleton early Saturday morning, were facing William Blount playing their third game of the day.

“This group, I can’t say enough about how we battled all day,” Halouma said. “As far as heart and determination, they were all I could have hoped.

“Our focus all day was to take it one at a time and get to the championship game.”

The Wildcats blew it open by degrees in the title tilt. Singles from Cunningham, Williams and Bloom powered William Blount to a 3-0 lead after an inning. The lead was 5-0 Wildcats after three.

Clinton, which struck for its lone run in the fourth, put runners aboard in every inning. The Wildcats, for the most part, simply would not let the Hawks get any of those runs home.

“I thought we hit the ball hard,” Halouma said. “I thought they played great defense.”

All-tournament team: William Blount Middle - Coy Williamson, Hunter Saunders, Brooks Cunningham; Eagleton Middle - Jordan Norton, Nick Cutler; Heritage Middle - Cody Wagner; Alcoa Middle - Nathan Waters, Zach Chapman; Clinton Middle - Brice Kidwell, Austin Powell.

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