Hunter Ensley made baseball history

Marvin Westwestwords

Tennessee baseball, a week later … so much has happened … coach-of-the-year Tony V is now the face of the college game … TV talker Greg McElroy ripped Vitello antics as embarrassing, like a WWE character, no class … McElroy repented and may have been baptized.

Fans figured out what their Omaha trip cost. The parade was fun. The celebration may be over.

Starting pitcher Zander Sechrist #48 and closer Kirby Connell #35 douse head coach Tony Vitello following the Vols win over Texas A&M in the Men’s College World Series. (Photo By Kate Luffman/ Tennessee Athletics)

I was ready to move on to football, to Nico and Bru McCoy and James Pearce, but advisors of westwords, the official Board of Consultants, Sarah, Sandra, Virgil, Bud, Tom, the whole group, including the bright new guy, Tony M, said baseball remains the talk of the town.

I called Alice Ensley over in Huntingdon. She was not too surprised. Many had called.

Alice did not seem all that surprised when told again that her son, Hunter, had made two of the greatest plays in Tennessee baseball history. There was no hint of brashness or arrogance. She just wasn’t properly shocked that he came through in the clutch.

Happy, yes. And proud. But not stunned.

Hunter Ensley made the catch of a lifetime against North Carolina in the College World Series. He chased down a long drive, snagged the prize, slammed into the centerfield wall, survived the crash and held onto that little, round, white thing that makes such a big difference.

Alice was concerned for two seconds until he bounced up and told the wall what he thought of it for getting in his way.

This was more than a gem on a TV-highlights show. It was an astounding feat.

Through a century and change, Tennessee has been thrilled by an assortment of big sports plays. The Shot was made in basketball by walk-on Skylar McBee in 2010 against undefeated Kansas.
Skylar leaned around a Jayhawk, tilted to his left and hit a three with a second to go on the shot clock and 35 left in the game. Of course, the Vols won.

Tennessee will never forget The Stop, Wayne Grubb, Charlie Severance and Bill Majors putting the pads to Heisman hero Billy Cannon at the half-inch line on an LSU two-point conversion try, Shields-Watkins Field, Nov. 7, 1959.

Against Alabama, third Saturday in October, 1939, people couldn’t believe what they were seeing, The Run, the serpentine trip by second-team tailback Johnny Butler, officially 56 yards but a quarter of a mile back and forth and down the field.

Butler, 5-10 and 162, ran this way awhile, cut back and ran that way. Vol blockers knocked Tide would-be tacklers into the middle of next week. Butler zigged and zagged. He faked some foes out of their underwear.

“That run must have taken the better part of three minutes,” said end Ed Cifers.

Well, maybe one or two.

Robert R. Neyland said it was amazing, absolutely amazing. The conservative coach rarely used such words.

There have been several spectacular football catches – by Larry Seivers and Jauan Jennings – and Ramel Keyton and Squirrel and Bru in more recent times.

There has never been a catch like The Catch.

Hunter Ensley is not a one-trick pony. In the seventh inning of the winner-take-all third game against Texas A&M, the gritty Vol slashed a fastball for a single.

Kavares Tears followed with a long ball. Ensley was running but sneaked a peek to see if it was another home run. Just missed. Jace LaViolette grabbed the ricochet in his bare hand and fired a strike to the cutoff man, shortstop Ali Camarillo.

Ensley was motoring. Third-base coach Josh Elander waved him on.

Ensley read catcher Jackson Appel’s slight adjustment to receive the throw a little to the outside.

“Not really a whole lot of thought going on,” Ensley said. “Just seeing that, right in front of my eyes, and making an athletic move, trying to get back to the inside of the base.”

Ensley twisted his body, around Appel, and reached out for the plate with his left hand. Appel tagged thin air. Ensley wasn’t there. The action was reviewed and reviewed some more. The umpire’s call was correctly confirmed.

The Slide was Tennessee’s sixth run. It turned out to be the winning run. The play turned into the national championship.

Alice Ensley said Hunter has always been like that, highly competitive, fiercely determined, no fear of the moment, no matter how big.

The Ensleys were living in Alaska, in the little fishing village of Kasaan, population 35 or 40, when Hunter was born. His dad, Marty, owned a saw mill. There was a logging industry.

When Hunter was 5, they moved to Huntingdon, of all places. I asked why. Relatives had come south.

Of course, Hunter grew up to play baseball. He was an all-state quarterback. He was also tough. Now, he is a legend.

Depending on what pro baseball says and does, Hunter may be back for a final year at Tennessee. Alice said that would be OK. She said the championship season was a delight, sincere baseball family fellowship, tailgate parties before games, 60 victories, so many really good players.

Alice wasn’t surprised that Hunter was able to do his part.

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is


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