The Long County Blue Tide baseball team traveled to Bloomingdale Saturday afternoon for a second matchup in less than a week with the New Hampstead Phoenix. The Tide once again came away with a mercy rule victory, 14-4 in 6 innings. Luke Wells made his first appearance and start on the mound squaring off with Phoenix starter Jacob Gilkey.
Much like the first matchup with between the two teams, the Tide would use one big inning to put the Phoenix away. Only this time, it was the 6th inning and the Tide found themselves trailing the Phoenix who showed up to play despite the 12-2 loss they suffered Monday in Ludowici.
It looked early as if Long County would pick up where they left off from the previous meeting. TJ Criswell led off the game with a solid single to left. He would eventually end up on 3rd after a stolen base and a wild pitch. Short stop Ethan Wells then lined a 3-2 pitch to center to score Criswell giving the Tide a 1-0 lead before an out was recorded.
Gilkey, however, would settle in and retire the next 3 Tide batters in order.
The bottom of the first started with a lead off single to left for the Phoenix by Orlando Carter. Gilkey helped his own cause with a single to left of his own scoring Carter who stole 2nd earlier in the at bat. Gilkey was caught rounding 1st base a little too far and was put out in a well-executed rundown by the Tide defense. Wells was able to force a ground out to short and a strike out to end the 1st inning with the score tied 1-1.
The Tide took the lead right back in the top of the 2nd. Left fielder Hayden Beasley led off the inning, reaching base on an error by Phoenix second baseman Marshall. Freshman DH Joseph Cammack laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt moving Beasley to 2nd. After another wild pitch and with Beasley on 3rd, Gilkey was called for a balk, scoring Beasley, and the Tide reclaimed a 2-1 lead. Gilkey then walked Carlos Cruz and Criswell but was able to escape any further damage in the inning.
The Phoenix threatened to tie the game in the bottom of the 2nd when with a runner on 2nd and two outs, Phoenix second baseman Joey Marshall lifted a looping line drive down the right field line. But Tide right fielder Allen Crystal made a tremendous sliding catch to rob Marshall and preserve the lead.
Both pitchers settled in and worked their way through a couple of jams over the next couple of innings. It would remain 2-1 Long County through four complete innings.
For Luke Wells, Saturday’s start on the mound was his first appearance of the year and he gave the Tide exactly what the team needed. Four strong innings scattering 6 hits, 1 earned run, 4 strikeouts and only one walk, allowing his defense to work and giving his offense a chance. It was Ethan Wells’ first appearance as well, posting a line of 2 IP, 1 hit, 3 unearned runs, and no walks.
The Tide managed to add an insurance run in the top of the 5th when freshman Dwayne Rowe legged out a slow roller to short, scoring senior catcher Rex Johnson on a wild throw to 1st by shortstop Aarmond Jackson. Johnson had doubled to left with two outs to get into scoring position, jump starting the mini rally. Heading to the bottom of the 5th, the Tide held on to a 3-1 lead.
The Phoenix would come right back though. A normally stingy Tide defense would open the door for a productive Phoenix half of the 5th. The first two batters of the inning reached off reliever Ethan Wells on back to back Tide errors. An overthrow from the outfield allowed Phoenix runners on 2nd and 3rd with nobody out. Aarmond Jackson grounded slowly back to the mound, scoring Carter on a fielder’s choice as Wells attempted to get the runner at home, running the score to 3-2 Tide. After a double steal, next batter Smart grounded to 1st and on a great diving stop by first baseman Cruz and with Wells covering, the Tide were able to get the first out of the inning. But scoring on the play was Gilky and the game was tied 3-3. Bidnick drove in Jackson for the final run of the inning with a groundout to short and the Phoenix took a 4-3 lead into the top of the 6th.
Undoubtably, with a one run lead through five, the Phoenix had revenge on their mind from Monday’s drubbing at the hands of the Tide.
It wasn’t to be.
The top of the 6th would prove to be an eventful and memorable inning for the Long County team, the community, and one family in particular.
Carlos Cruz led off the inning with a double, immediately putting the tying run in scoring position. That double was followed by a pinch-hit line drive, game tying hit to left center. That in itself is exciting. That’s a big hit in any game for any player.
But there is a story here. A story about a 16-year-old kid, his family, and a community that rallied around them.
Coming into the season, if you’d asked anyone to give you an assessment of the Blue Tide baseball team and its returning players, one name mentioned would certainly have been Junior Ethan Williams, a cornerstone hitter, defender, and pitcher. A superior athlete that the Tide would lean on heavily. But fate had a different plan for Ethan.
In November, Williams was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome which left him completely paralyzed from the waist down. And it left a family, team, and community in shock. It’s a complicated disease with a complicated prognosis, and doctors warned the Williams family that a full recovery, while not impossible, was not guaranteed either. They couldn’t even say with certainty when he would walk on his own again. Maybe with intensive treatment and therapy, he would be back to baseball type activities by August or so.
And Ethan Williams just tied the game in his first at bat of the year on a Saturday afternoon in Bloomingdale, Ga. He isn’t all the way back. Maybe he’s half way back. Maybe less, maybe more. All that matters is that Ethan Williams just got a hit, drove in a run, stumbled around 1st on his way to lumbering to 2nd on a errant throw in a baseball game. The hit was nice. It tied a ball game late. That’s a good thing. The fact that it was Williams?
Well, that’s a blessing. A miracle. A moment that will surely last much longer than the top of the 6th.
And it would be all Tide from there; probably not coincidentally.
Criswell walked. Ethan Wells laid down a bunt single. And with the bases loaded, Allen Crystal unleashed the key hit with a drive over the right fielder’s head for a stand up, bases clearing triple and a 7-4 Tide lead. Luke Wells was hit by a pitch and Rex Johnson singled to score Crystal. With runners at 1st and 2nd and an 8-4 lead, Dwayne Rowe added another bunt single to reload the bases. Cammack then pushed across a run with a fielder’s choice in which no out was recorded. Cruz singled for his 2nd hit of the inning scoring one, and a balk added another. Williams walked to load the bases again, and another Phoenix balk gave the Tide a 12-4 lead.
Criswell grounded to short for the first out of the inning, scoring Cammack. Ethan Wells would add the 11th and final run of the inning with a single to left and a 14-4 lead headed to the bottom of the 6th.
The Phoenix would go quietly in the bottom half, and the game was called by the 10 after 5 run rule.
The Blue Tide now sit at 3-0 on the season, and head coach James Hobbs knows this game could have turned out differently. “I told the guys before the game to not let them hang around. They can beat you.” Hobbs said. “We saw some things that exposed us today. It kind of let us know where we are. But it gives us an opportunity to work on those things. But we won. That’s a good thing.”
Hobbs also complimented Luke and Ethan Wells, today’s pitchers making their first appearances. “Neither one had thrown yet this year and they did a really nice job, threw a lot of strikes. That sets us up to have everybody available Monday.”
The Tide were paced offensively by Allen Crystal who went 3-5 with a triple and 3 RBI. Rex Johnson went 3-5 including a double and 1 RBI, Ethan Wells, 3-5, 2 RBI, and two stolen bases, and Carlos Cruz who went 2-3 with a double and an RBI. Again, the Tide spread the wealth with 7 different players recording hits and at least 1 RBI.
Long County was back in action Monday night when they played host to the Jenkins Warriors in Ludowici.