Resilient Vincent falls in state championship to cap banner year

Published 10:41 pm Tuesday, May 16, 2023

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

JACKSONVILLE – If there was one word that could describe Vincent baseball in 2023, it’s resilient.

There were chances throughout the year where anybody could have counted out this team, but they rose to the moment and never backed down.

The Vincent Yellow Jackets fought hard at every turn during their Class 2A State Championship series against the Ariton Purple Cats, but they lost game two, 5-4, on Tuesday, May 16 at Jacksonville State to lose the series 2-0.

“Like I’ve been saying pretty much all season, I’m so proud of these guys,” Vincent coach Timothy Junkins said after the game. “We’ve fought hard all year. We’ve been through lots of adversity. This year, not a lot of people gave us a chance at the beginning of the season. I mean, these kids have fought hard game in, game out.”

For Vincent, it was their first appearance in the title game since 2002, and they made the most of it by bringing a loud and electric atmosphere from even before the first pitch.

In the bottom of the first, Ariton’s first two batters walked and both scored on a throwing error to second base.

Vincent’s bats came out firing in the top of the second as Grayson Gulde and Ray Albright both reached on singles, and then Aiden Gasaway drove both of them in to tie the game at two.

After Carlisle shut down the Purple Cats to leave two on-base, Gulde took advantage of Easton Fields reaching third on a wild pitch by hitting an RBI-single to score Fields.

Vincent left two runners on base to end the inning, and Ariton responded with an RBI-single from Lawson Leger and a bases loaded walk to take the 4-3 lead.

Vincent kept the score even with clutch double plays to end the fourth and sixth innings and set themselves up to take advantage of the momentum going into the seventh.

Facing the last three outs of their season, Casen Fields hit a leadoff single and then stole second before scoring off an RBI-double from Easton Fields to tie the game.

Landon Archer came in to pinch run and advanced to third before a groundout ended the inning.

Ariton’s first two hitters reached base, but Vincent battled back to get two outs and put all the pressure on Paxton Steed.

After Myles Tyler advanced to third on a wild pitch, Steed hit a walk-off single to win the state title.

Despite the heartbreaking ending, senior pitcher Zac Carlisle believed this journey meant a lot to the town.

“I think the community really, really needed something like this,” Carlisle said. “I mean, we started the season off in pretty rough circumstances, but it really brought us all together and put faith in what we got.”

Coach Junkins was extremely proud of the seniors that built up the program and the younger classes that will come after them.

“We’re where we are because of this senior class. We went [to the] third round last year. Those seniors were special, but even last year, this senior class as juniors got us to that point also, so they were a huge part of it. And in this year, like I said, insert whatever you want to about Vincent, it’s this class that has led us to that point. And I told them that they started something here at Vincent.

“I mean, I don’t want to say we’re going to be back, but we’re not going to go anywhere. Because the younger kids…they fed off their energy, their attitude, their character, and they’re following in their footsteps. So, in my mind, whoever it is, we’re just going to keep rolling.”

Those seniors and younger kids have built relationships through youth ball and classes together, but they’ve also built relationships with the parents, fans and younger kids in the community.

And that community rallied behind them and showed up in force in Jacksonville, staying through a rain delay each day and bringing the energy until the last pitch.

“I mean, I can’t imagine a louder environment in a high school baseball game,” coach Junkins said. “You know, we almost had to pretty much quit yelling defensive stuff because they couldn’t hear us anyway. I asked one of the JSU guys last night, and he’s never even heard the stadium that loud, and our home games are like that, too. I mean they are packed out. We literally have just people surrounding the field. So people really at Vincent get behind our sports teams, and this has been an incredible year for all of our athletics and it has a lot to do with these kids.”

Vincent’s baseball players have been playing all year in multiple sports, and they have become hometown heroes for the entire town of Vincent and made an impact on the next generation.

“I just like seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces, just walking by them or even standing on deck there, yelling my name, trying to get my attention,” sophomore pitcher and shortstop Aiden Poe said. “We went to the elementary school the other day, and just seeing it on those kids’ faces when we greeted them, you can tell that they’re going to remember it, parents will remember it, and I think the legacy will last a long time.”

Those kids will play a part in continuing the legacy of Vincent athletics in the 2022-23 season, and if they take note of these student-athletes’ resiliency, there’s no telling where this small community can go.