Story and Photos by Rusty Ellis
The Upperman Bees are bringing more hardware home to Baxter, as they took down Covington 2-0 in the Class 3A State Championship.
The Bees found some success at the plate early against Covington’s Parker Davis, as they loaded the bases with just one out in the opening frame. Davis got out of the jam unscathed however, and kept the game scoreless.
The Chargers put the first of their two biggest innings together in the second when they loaded the bases against Bee starter Eli Huddleston with no outs, but the junior southpaw induced a pair of ground-balls and a strikeout to end the inning with no runs scored.
The game remained scoreless until the top of the sixth, where Upperman junior Caden Colson laced a ball into the left-centerfield gap to score the game’s first two runs and give the Bees a 2-0 lead late in the game.
Covington wouldn’t go away quietly however, as they once again loaded the bases with no outs against Huddleston. This prompted a mound visit from assistant coach David King, and as far as what he told Huddleston, it was really simple.
“All he said was ‘are you good?’ and I said ‘yeah,'” Huddleston said. “Then he gave me a fist bump.”
That visit worked like the first one, as Huddleston struck out two hitters in a row before inducing another grounder to third to end the threat, sending the game to the seventh inning.
And it was all she wrote from there, as a fly-ball to freshman Justin Fallon polished off Upperman’s first baseball state championship since 1993.
“I can’t really describe it, I’m so proud of my boys and that’s what my postgame speech was,” said UHS head coach Wes Shanks. “I’m so excited them…it was a 0-0 game in the bottom of the fifth and I was still thinking that I had my number one going and we’re putting together good at-bats. We were just waiting for that one hit, and there it comes from Caden Colson. That from a coaching perspective is just awesome.”
Colson’s big hit is one that’ll be remembered for a long time in Baxter, as he says he just went up to the plate wanting to pull through for his teammates.
“I was just focusing on trying to hit a single,” Colson said. “I was just trying to move the runners over and get it to the next guy. It feels awesome, I’m just ready to live it up with the team.”
And it was a big two runs indeed, as Huddleston had some of his best stuff working on the mound. As his 0.56 ERA in the regular season would point out, he didn’t need much run support to begin with. For Colson, playing behind a competitor like Huddleston is pretty simple.
“He’s the man,” Colson said. “He’s the dog on the mound, and he deserves all the (attention) he gets.”
Many believed that his numbers would put Huddleston squarely in the Mr. Baseball conversation, but he was surprisingly left off the final ballot. While that may have motivated the junior today, he knows he’s coming home with a much bigger prize in hand.
“It helped, but we also moved up a classification,” Huddleston said. “My stats were better than last year, but it’s alright. We got the win. They didn’t win, we won.”
And his head coach agreed that Huddleston was on his best game on Saturday to help bring this title home.
“He was a Mr. Baseball finalist last year; who else would you rather have from your team (on the mound) other than your Mr. Baseball finalist?” Shanks said. “He probably should’ve gotten this year, but it’s one of those things where he knows what he’s capable of…when he’s on the mound, he’s not going to give up runs.”
Shanks’ father Wayne won a pair of titles for the Bees back in 1991 and 1993, making for a championship father-son duo in the annals of Upperman baseball. For Shanks, the support he and his team have received has been one of the highlights of this run.
“My family has been so supportive for me,” Shanks said. “Being a teacher is so tough, and without them and even the support of the boys, we are a family. We are a Bees family, and this moment right here makes that so much more special.”