MORRISTOWN, TN – Following yesterday's win over No. 13 Georgia Highlands, No. 1 Walters State wanted to come out firing in game two of the Appalachian District Series on Wednesday.
Caleb McNeely got the memo and delivered.
On the second pitch of the game, McNeely blasted a ball over the fence for a leadoff home run that jump-started a four-run first inning. McNeely deposited another home run over the fence in the seventh that capped off a five-run inning that sealed the deal as the Senators punched their ticket to the NJCAA DI JUCO World Series with an 11-6 victory.
McNeely was three-for-five in the ballgame on Wednesday with two home runs and drove home five runs. For the season, he now sits with a .396 batting average with 24 home runs and 70 RBIs. His two runs scored on Wednesday gave him 93 for the season, breaking the Walters State single-season record of 92 held by Stuart Ritchie in 2002.
"He's been huge for us all year," Walters State baseball coach Dave Shelton said. "Caleb is such a special player. He's one of the best players that has ever played here. It's one of those deals where the team follows his lead. With him coming out and hitting that home run, it's almost a sigh of relief. Everybody kept going after that. And then his last home run was big too. I don't know if it's landed yet."
2022 will be the 11th time in program history the Senators have made the World Series and the fourth straight season they will be in Grand Junction.
In those four seasons, the Senators have a combined record of 232-31 and tallied a second-place finish in 2018, a third-place finish in 2019 and a seventh-place finish in 2021.
"It's a testament to the players," Shelton said. "We've had groups that buy into what we do here. This fall was really tough for us. Our field was under construction all fall, and we struggled in our fall games. It would've been easy for guys to shut it down and say our run is done. But this group really bought into doing what we can. We trusted the process and what we do. We had to believe that we were still Walters State and we were going to do what we always do.
"It's hard to wrap my mind around this run. There's a lot of programs that dream of having a 40-win season. Each group of kids that come through here are the ones that have accomplished these things. The run we have been on is pretty special. It just doesn't happen in college baseball a whole lot. It's a testament to how hard our guys work. It's really been a fun run."
While McNeely was doing his job at the plate on Wednesday, Jake Knapp and Landon Crumbley were doing it on the mound. Knapp got the start and threw four innings of work, allowing three runs on four hits and striking out seven.
In the fifth, in a one-run game, Landon Crumbley replaced Knapp and was excellent on the mound with 4.2 innings of work, allowing three runs on two hits while striking out five.
"I knew that the first strike was important and the first batter was important," Crumbley said. "If I fell behind and had to go through the stretch, I would've had to work a lot more. As soon as I got the first strike and first batter, I felt a lot better."
Crumbley improved to 3-0 on the season and has come up with some big relief appearances in postseason play for the Senators. Last week in the Region VII Championship game, Crumbley threw four innings and gave up just two runs.
"For Landon to come in and pitch the rest of the way like that and pitch those innings, it's unbelievable," Shelton said. "He came in and located his secondary pitches, his breaking ball and his changeup. He's been good for us all year, too. He's a weekend starter for most other teams. For him to basically pitch us to Grand Junction, that was awesome."
Joey Mitchell got the final out of the game, throwing just three pitches as he got three swinging strikes.
At the plate along with McNeely, Nick Block, Noah Gent and Andrew Ott each had two hits while Dalton McLain continued his impressive postseason with two RBIs. Corbin Shaw smoked a home run as well for the Senators.
It was McNeely who got the scoring started early for Walters State with his first home run of the game. The Senators would go on to score three more runs in the inning as Noah Gent hit a sacrifice fly, Kory Klingenbeck walked with the bases loaded and Dalton McLain reached on a fielder's choice.
"That was a big hit for us because we ended up scoring four in that first inning," McNeely said. "Yesterday, they stayed consistent with fastball inside and off-speed away. First pitch today was fastball inside so I was expecting what they gave me, and I didn't miss it."
Georgia Highlands cut into the lead in the second with two runs to make it 4-2 and then added a third in the fourth on a leadoff home run to make it 4-3.
Needing a response, the Senators got one in the sixth with a run to make it 5-3. That run came as McNeely smashed a single past the third baseman to score McLain.
Following a 1-2-3 bottom sixth from Crumbley, the Senators put the game away in the seventh with five runs. McLain walked with the bases loaded for the first run before Caleb Marmo hit a sacrifice fly to score Klingenbeck. McNeely capped things off with a three-run bomb over the fence in left field.
"It was a high fastball in, and I was ready for it," McNeely said. "It was awesome. A great feeling after that one."
In the eighth, Shaw capped off the scoring for the Senators with a bomb over the fence in left field, as well. The Chargers would score two in the eighth and one in the ninth, but the Senators held on for the victory.
The Senators will now travel to Grand Junction, CO for the World Series. Games will begin on Saturday, May 28.
McNeely is one of 10 players who were on the Senators 2021 team that went 1-2 at the World Series. That is a different feel from 2021 when just two of the players had been to the World Series before.
"You have to keep the same mindset no matter what," McNeely said. "You have to go all out and get the guy on second home because one run makes a difference out there. It's a game of inches and one run. It's just high focus. I'm just excited to go back. Being in Grand Junction is one of the best experiences I have ever had. It's awesome up there. Playing in front of those people, I'm excited to go see them all again."
For the new guys, the trip will be one to remember. And, they hope for a week-long stay till the very end.
"I'm very excited," Crumbley said. "All I have heard is great things and that it is the best experience. I'm excited to go, for sure."
Walters State Community College
Sports Information Director
Cell: (423) 779-8880