Rebels down Jackson Academy, advance to state final

Published 7:31 pm Thursday, May 3, 2018

LaFAYETTE — Chambers Academy starting pitcher Luke Davis let out a holler as he jogged off the mound in the first inning of Thursday’s rubber match against Jackson Academy.

He had just fanned one of the Eagles’ best hitters, Devin Pitre, with a breaking ball.

And Davis, a senior, was pumped. He exhibited similar excitement six innings later.

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After the Rebels turned a game-ending double play to cement their 6-2 victory in the AISA Class A state semifinals, Davis stepped off the hill and charged toward senior shortstop Gavin White.

The two met for an aerial embrace as they celebrated their team’s advancement to its first state final since 1999.

Soon, a dogpile of blue and gray jerseys formed on the infield grass.

“It’s everything I’ve been dreaming about for about six months now,” said Davis, who transferred from Opelika High School prior to the school year in hopes of experiencing a playoff run. “It was great, just pure excitement.”

Davis said he and his teammates entered Thursday’s deciding contest with composure and confidence.

After dropping game one in the best-of-three series on Wednesday afternoon, the Rebels rallied in the final inning of game two on Wednesday evening to keep their season alive.

They harnessed that momentum on Thursday.

Under a bright sun and blue skies, Chambers Academy (19-12) came ready to play on its home field. Not once did the Rebels trail.

“This was our goal, to get to this point,” said Dillon NesSmith, the Rebels’ first-year head coach. “Now we’re there. A lot of people doubted us, and we’ve scratched and clawed and found a way.”

Chambers Academy, which fell behind in the first two games of the series, seized a 3-0 lead in the second inning on hits from White and Davis.

White squeezed a two-run single between shortstop and third base that plated Payton Allen and Brody Smoot.

Three batters later — following a Braxton Allen single and a Blake Sheppard walk — Davis connected for an RBI single that scored White.

“I just went up there aggressive,” White said of his hit. “I was looking fastball inside — that’s my happy zone —  and that’s what I got. I just squared it up.”

The Rebels maintained their three-run edge until the fifth inning. That’s when Jackson Academy produced its only runs on a sacrifice groundout and a bloop single.

Davis surrendered a pair of hits to start the frame, but those were two of his only hiccups.

He stayed in command through all seven innings. His defense had his back.

White and Smoot, the Rebels’ third baseman, made a handful of tough plays on the left side of the infield. White dove to snag a line drive just inches above the dirt, while Smoot dug out several hard-hit ground balls.

Chambers Academy added three insurance runs in the sixth inning. Smoot touched home plate on a ground ball from Braxton Allen, and Sheppard, who delivered the game-winning hit in game two, laced a two-run single up the middle.

The late offensive surge set the table for Davis’ final inning on the hill.

Jackson Academy’s first two batters reached base, but the Rebels dispelled the threat.

Davis recorded the first out by fielding a chopper and throwing out the Eagles’ lead runner at third base.

A few pitches later, he induced the contest-closing double-play that saw second baseman Colton Hand flip the ball to White, who fired to first baseman Caydon Smoot.

Then, the celebration began.

“This is exactly what we said we wanted to do, and this is what we’re doing,” said White, who spearheaded a postgame ice bathing of NesSmith. “It’s crazy.”

Chambers Academy will face Eastwood Academy in a best-of-three state final series that begins on Tuesday at Paterson Field in Montgomery. The Rebels believe they have what it takes to win it all.

“We’re playing with a lot of momentum. We’re playing with a lot of confidence, and that’s dangerous,” NesSmith said. “We’re going to be a team to be reckoned with.”