J.T. Edore and the Wildcats are on a mission this season after falling just short of the Class A title a year ago. Westwood could find ultimate redemption if it beats David Emanuel in the Final Four, then plays in the finals against Crisp — the team that swept Westwood in 2011. (Larry G. Williams/Special to The Herald)
WHO: Westwood baseball team (17-3) at David Emanuel (16-11).
WHAT: GISA Class A Final Four.
WHEN: 3 p.m. today — Game 1; Game 2 will be Saturday at 11 a.m., followed immediately by Game 3, if necessary.
INNING-BY-INNING UPDATES: Log onto twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports
CAMILLA — Can a turkey bring a team a state title?
How about a couple of good-luck turkeys?
Westwood’s old-school, turkey-carrying, John-Wayne-quoting baseball team heads into the GISA Class A Final Four today against David Emanuel with a ton of talent and even more charm and style.
These are the Wildcats of Westwood, the same kids who lost in the state final a year ago to rival Crisp Academy. They are back for another run, and they’re taking every good luck piece with them, including a pair of decoy turkeys that showed up in the dugout this season and brought the Wildcats some good luck.
Blame shortstop and pitcher Caleb Morrell, who brought one of the decoy turkeys to a game this season.
“I had it in my truck and just brought it and hung it in the dugout, and we hit real well that day, so the next game I brought two turkeys and put one on each end of the dugout,’’ Morrell said Thursday. “Then I didn’t bring the turkeys and we lost (two games in a row).’’
The turkeys were back on both ends of the dugout last week when Westwood opened the playoffs with a pair of wins — 12-2 and 16-0 — against Nathanael Greene.
“We need the turkeys,’’ catcher Mason Worsham said.
Then Morrell chipped in: “We need the turkeys. They’re our mojo.’’
Westwood really doesn’t need much help. The Wildcats (17-3) are loaded and brought back almost everyone from last year’s state finalist team, including their top two pitchers, Douglas Nobles and Morrell. Nobles is 8-2 on the mound and even better at the plate, where he’s hitting .575 with eight homers.
Morrell, meanwhile, is 7-1 on the mound and is hitting .526. Worsham is batting .457 and has more than 20 stolen bases this season without being caught. Mitch Good, a junior, is 2-0 on the mound and is batting .424.
If that’s not enough, freshman Tyler Classon had seven hits in the two games against Nat Greene, and J.T. Edore, a speedy sophomore, returned to have another big year in the outfield.
Nobles, who has already signed with Georgia Southern, is one of the most dominating pitchers in the state and will start tonight. Morrell will pitch Game 2 against Emanuel (16-10), which are the Region 2-A champs.
Westwood won Region 3-A, which included state champion Crisp Academy. The two teams split during the regular season, but Westwood won the title because Crisp was upset by Randolph Southern. Good made the comment that Westwood should buy Randolph Southern a cake for beating Crisp, and a week later when Randolph Southern came to Camilla for a scrimmage against the Wildcats, sure enough, there was a cake.
Good’s grandfather, Mack Hayes, bought the cake. It had Westwood on one half in orange and white and Randolph Southern’s team colors of red and white on the other half of the cake.
It’s been that kind of year at Westwood, where everyone has enjoyed the ride, especially during the team’s 15-game winning streak. Westwood lost its season opener to Brookwood, which is in the Class AA Final Four, and then won 15 in a row before losing to Crisp, 6-1, in the region finale. Then the Wildcats lost their final game of the regular season to Sherwood Christian, 5-4.
“I guess you could call it a region championship hangover,’’ Westwood coach Al Timmerman said after practice Thursday. “I don’t know what happened. That’s as flat as we have been all year.’’
Morrell, however, said it was because the team didn’t have the turkeys in the dugout.
He brought the turkeys back last week, and Westwood, which earned a first-round bye in the state tournament, bounced back with the sweep against Nathanael Greene.
Morrell has even named the birds.
“Their names are George and Nancy,’’ he said. “They’re named after (singer) George Jones and his wife Nancy.’’
And with that said, both Morrell and Nobles began singing the legendary country singer’s songs.
Timmerman doesn’t believe in the turkeys, but he does believe in his team.
“I’ve heard of a lot of superstitions in baseball,’’ Timmerman said. “’I guess turkeys are part of it now.’’
It’s what’s on the field that makes Timmerman feel good about Westwood’s chances.
“I feel confident we’ll get good pitching,’’ said Timmerman, who has two pitchers who have combined for 120 strikeouts this season. “Douglas will be pitching in the first game and then we’ll go with Caleb, and if there’s a Game 3, then we’ll see how many innings they have left. You can use a pitcher for 10 innings in one weekend.’’
Nobles loves to pitch and blast home runs, but lately he loves quoting John Wayne almost as much. Some of the players have been watching a lot of John Wayne movies of late, and Nobles was doing his best impersonation of “The Duke” at practice Thursday, talking about old-school values and working hard.
“That’s what this team is about, old school,’’ said Nobles, who pitched six innings of no-hit ball in the state final and then lost, 2-0, in the seventh to Crisp last year. “We’ve got to work for it and fight for it. We’re not going to give up without a fight. Last year when we lost (in the championship), it was gut-wrenching. We don’t want to go through that again.’’
He believes this year’s team is even better.
“One through nine this team is better,’’ Nobles said. “We brought almost everyone back and some of the young guys have stepped up.’’
Timmerman likes the way his team has come together this season.
“The difference this year is we had a few unknown spots on defense,’’ he said. “We had to shuffle some people around early at second base and shortstop, but Kaleb Bentley, a junior, and Tyler Classon, a freshman have really come through, and Jacques Irvin is a freshman who has stepped in and played first for us and done a good job.
“Our goal when we stepped on the practice field when we started playing was to be playing on that final weekend, and we have one more series to win. We’re not looking ahead. Everyone else is talking about us playing Crisp (again) but we’re not talking about it.
“This team has never gotten too excited. They are never too high or too low. Losing to Crisp (last year) put a bad taste in our mouth and we want to get back to that final game, but we’re focused on David Emanuel right now.’’
And so are the turkeys.