But leaders can’t be down, and Williams figured he’d give his team a shot of confidence before Thursday’s Calhoun County championship game. So, in his own way, he called his shot against Oxford pitcher and Georgia Tech commitment Tucker Simpson.
“I was talking to my teammates on the way down here, and I wanted to show these young kids he’s hittable,” Williams said. “I was talking about hitting one on top of Martin’s.”
He even predicted he’d do it on the game’s first pitch.
The third pitch will have to do.
Williams slammed a 1-1 fastball on top of Martin’s Family Clothing store across the street from Oxford’s Bud McCarty Field and set the tone for the young Golden Eagles. They took it from there, reclaiming a lead all three times that Oxford rallied to tie the game.
A Jacksonville team with four sophomores and a freshman in the lineup left town with an 8-6 victory and county championship, and Williams left town as the tournament’s most valuable player.
He made other key plays at the plate and in the field, and his solo homer on the game’s first at bat scored more style points than runs. Then again, it backed up confident talk with action.
“We didn’t have anything to lose,” Jacksonville coach David Deerman said. “We came down here, and we were the underdog, and we wanted to try to set the tone early to prove that we weren’t going to be intimidated.
“Jake started us off with a home run, and it was big for our confidence.”
And let the legend begin.
Who knows what kind of distance figure Williams and Jacksonville faithful will claim for his home run over time? It’s open for guessing, because all anyone saw was the ball land on the roof.
“It had to be a 400-foot shot,” Deerman said.
The left-handed Williams pulled the ball over Oxford’s short, right-field fence, which sits 300 feet from home plate. With native knowledge, Oxford coach Wes Brooks gave his best estimation of how far the ball traveled from there.
“I think to Martin’s is 335,” Brooks said. “And then, probably, up on the wall, you’re talking a 350 shot, at least.”
In fairness, Simpson has had and will have better days. He didn’t have his best stuff Thursday and was pulled during the Jacksonville fourth.
Even when he has his best stuff, a Tucker Simpson fastball, met squarely by the bat of a good hitter, can travel a long way.
“Tucker is a fastball thrower, a power pitcher, and he goes after guys,” Brooks said.
Williams is a good hitter who has been there and done that.
“He’s been starting ever since he was a freshman,” Deerman said. “We went to the playoffs three or four years, so he’s been in big games.
“Jake played like the veteran that he is.”
He showed it by making two rangy plays at shortstop in the Oxford fifth. The Yellow Jackets tied the game at 4-4 in that inning but could have taken the lead, had Williams not gloved two balls up the middle.
The Jacksonville fifth saw Williams nearly homer to left field against Oxford’s Frazier Taylor. The opposite-field shot landed at the base of the fence for a stand-up double.
Williams made an alert play on his previous at bat, striking out but taking third base on a passed ball and throwing error. He later scored.
“Little angels were on my side there,” he said with a chuckle. “I looked stupid then got a couple of breaks.”
Williams could use a break toward life after high school. He committed to Jefferson State Community College, which then dropped baseball.
“The Saturday right before signing day, they called me,” he said. “They just said, I guess the economy or something, and they’re not going to have a baseball program any more.”
He said Jacksonville State has shown interest, possibly at a position other than shortstop. He hopes to keep playing shortstop.
“I really don’t know where I’m going or what I’m going to do yet,” he said. “I’m still looking out there.”
On Thursday, he hit one out there — way out there — and gave Jacksonville’s young team a shot of confidence.
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Jomedstar.