OXFORD — Ask his coach, and Oxford’s Caden Higgins’ rise from a months-long struggle with Crohn’s disease to earning most valuable player of the Calhoun County tournament proves something about baseball.
“When you’re living right and doing the right thing off the field,” Oxford coach Wes Brooks said, “I believe the game knows. It rewards you.”
Higgins, a senior who played in the final two of Oxford’s three tourney games, went 3-for-4 for the second game in a row to help the top-seeded Yellow Jackets beat No. 2 Alexandria 11-1 in five innings in Tuesday’s championship game at Choccolocco Park.
Higgins’ was one of several big performances. Fellow all-tourney picks Tate Adams, Brennan McCullough, Jarin Turner, Hayden Green and Brody Syer combined for nine hits on the night. Adams and Higgins each drove in two runs.
Syer, who started on the mound, and Green combined to allow three hits and strike out eight batters in a dominating show for Oxford (9-3), which won its three tourney games by a combined score of 31-11.
“They’re such a tough team to beat,” said Alexandria coach Andy Shaw, whose team fell to 5-6. “We was hoping our knuckleball guy (Tanner Mize) would give them some fits, but they’re just a great team.
“They hit it well. We made some errors, and every error we made, they capitalized.”
Nobody capitalized more on his return to action than Higgins.
The multisport athlete woke up with a fever and vomiting the day that Oxford was to play Clay Chalkville in the Class 6A football quarterfinals. He took fluids and felt well enough to play that night, but he was far from over his ailment.
“It was all downhill from there,” he said.
He spent eight days in Anniston’s Regional Medical Center, came home for a night, went back then ended up at UAB Hospital.
“At some point, you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, and it got to that point,” Brooks said. “We’re all getting group texts. We were getting all of the same messages.
“We were like, ‘Hey, he’s sick. Hey, he’s got this. Hey, he’s what? He’s going where? He’s having surgery right now?’”
Higgins he spent most of December at UAB, he said. Doctor’s suspected Crohn’s but couldn’t be certain until tests turned up telltale cells. He said he underwent three surgeries in a month.
His health scare cost him all but three games of basketball season. He was cleared to play baseball early in the season, but weakening from time off his legs caused him to pull both quadriceps in a 6-1 victory over Jacksonville on March 2.
Higgins was cleared from his quad injuries Monday, in time for Oxford’s county-semifinal victory over Jacksonville but looked wobbly while running out a triple in the first inning. Brooks said he can’t be certain, but Oxford assistant coach Jamie Burgess’ encouraging pat on Higgins’ backside after a pregame pep talk might have played a role.
“He got me pretty hard before the game,” Higgins said, laughing.
Higgins still has medicine ports and takes medicine six times a day. He said he’ll take a shot every week and watch his diet while continuing to manage the disease.
He hopes he’s done managing feelings about not playing.
“Not being able to play makes you appreciate being able to play,” Higgins said. “Just sitting on the sideline and watching the guys having fun, playing the game you love, and you not being able to do it, it kind of opens your eyes.”
Mindful of the team’s “legacy” theme for the season, he summed up winning a county championship.
“It’s the last time with the guys, trying to leave a legacy, like Coach Brooks always talks about,” he said. “Growing up, playing with all of these guys, it’s just like a dream come true to be out here, playing with them in the county championship, winning the county championship with all of these guys.”
Besides the Oxford contingent, the team included Alexandria’s Mitch Welch, Nate McCallum and Justin Shaw; Jacksonville’s Colton Clark and Blake Morris; Piedmont’s Mason Mohon and T.J. Fairs; Wellborn’s Austin McQueen; Ohatchee’s Kevin Williamson; White Plains’ Andrew Norred; Pleasant Valley’s Drew Bonds; and Weaver’s Dalton Hamby. Syer was the most outstanding offensive player and Alexandria’s Jalen Borders the most outstanding defensive player.