By Lee Davis
Much of Jon Sumner’s childhood was probably spent playing baseball in his backyard, imagining he was the game-winning hero.
The dream met reality for the Spain Park senior last week–not once but twice.
With his Jaguars playing a best-of-three series with Sparkman for the 6A state championship, Sumner got key hits in the first and third games to give Coach Will Smith’s team its first-ever baseball state crown.
Spain Park won Friday’s game 2-1, but the Senators rebounded to claim a 5-0 decision in Saturday’s second match. The Jaguars clinched the crown with a 9-4 verdict in the deciding game at Montgomery’s Riverwalk Stadium.
Sumner’s biggest blast came in the third inning of the third game, when his triple with two out broke open a 4-4 tie to give his team an insurmountable 7-4 advantage. Two more insurance runs in the fifth frame effectively sent the blue championship trophy to Valleydale Road.
Starting pitcher Tristan Widra retired the side in the seventh inning to end Sparkman’s final hopes.
“When I came up to bat, I knew I had to move the ball, whether it was a single, double or triple,” Sumner said. “Since there were two outs, we couldn’t afford to lose this opportunity to score. So I had to figure out a way to get our guys to score runs.”
As important as Sumner’s hits were, Smith said Spain Park’s championship was a true team effort.
“Our guys have fought hard all year,” he said. “In 6A baseball in Alabama, nothing comes easily. The players set a goal and achieved it. I can’t express how proud I am of them now.”
After the Jaguars opened the game with three runs, shaky defense allowed the Senators to gain the lead at the bottom of the inning. Sparkman scored four times after three Spain Park throwing errors.
The early troubles didn’t faze Widra, who turned in a strong pitching performance by tossing a three-hitter with seven strikeouts.
“I didn’t get worried when we struggled at the beginning,” Widra said. “We just had to play one inning at a time and not worry about what happened earlier. I treated every inning like it was the first one of the game.”
Josh Rich and Parker Hall got two hits for Spain Park in the title-clinching game.
Friday’s opening game was a taut thriller dominated by pitching and defense, but once again it was Sumner’s bat that made the decisive difference.
With the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the seventh, Sumner, trailing 1-2 in the count with two outs, pounded a hit to score Alan Desantis with the game-winning run.
Sumner’s second strike came from a curve ball by Sparkman ace Brock Anderson, but instinct told the batter to expect something different on the next pitch.
“I thought he would come with a fastball,” Sumner said. “Fortunately, I got a good swing at it.”
Good swings were a rarity, as each team earned only six hits as the pitchers controlled the tempo. Spain Park’s Mason Duke allowed six hits and one unearned run in seven innings. He struck out 13 Senator batters. Anderson also yielded just six hits and two earned runs. He fanned four Jaguars.
“It was a really exciting game,” Smith said. “You have to tip your hat to Anderson. Mason was great, too. He kept us in the game, and we got the big hit at the end.”
The score was tied 1-1 in the bottom of the sixth inning when Sparkman’s best chance to take the lead came. The Senators loaded the bases with only one out, as Smith elected to walk Sparkman’s A.C. Dantonio, who already had two hits for the day.
“We didn’t want Dantonio to get a chance to swing, so we took a little bit of a gamble,” Smith said.
The bold move paid off. Duke forced the Senators’ pinch-hitter, Jalen Luter, to send a pop fly to first for the second out. Then Sparkman’s Dylan Schram grounded into a fielder’s choice that forced the third out at second base to end the threat.
Spain Park’s game-winning inning began with Desantis getting a single. He moved to second after Dalton Brown’s sacrifice. Matt Berler’s fly ball to right brought the runner to third. Sumner’s hit scored Desantis for the opening game victory.
“It was the kind of game true baseball fans love,” Desantis said. “We saw their best, and they saw our best. It was a classic pitching matchup. You couldn’t ask for anything more, especially if you were on the winning team.”
Sparkman bounced back on Saturday to win the second game, thanks to pitcher Breonn Pooler’s two-hit performance on the mound. Anderson helped his team with a three-run homer.
So the stage was set for the third and deciding game. And Jon Sumner used the opportunity to make his childhood game of make-believe become a blue-trophy reality.