The Science Hill High School alumni played key roles for Tennessee Wesleyan, which defeated St. Thomas (Fla.) University 6-2 on Friday, May 31 in Lewiston, Idaho, to win the NAIA national championship.
“It is a surreal feeling,” Stephens said. “I won’t say it was expected because nothing in this game is expected. But our coach told us to be good enough to get there (to the NAIA World Series) because we knew if we got there, we had a good chance.”
They had been there before as freshmen in 2016 when the Bulldogs entered the World Series as the No. 2 overall seed. They won their opening game, but were eliminated in the losers’ bracket semifinals.
Entering as the top seed this time, they were able to give Wesleyan and head coach Billy Berry their second national championship.
“It was an awesome feeling,” Adams said. “We knew we had a pretty good chance because we had been there before and history was on our side. It was just a great experience all around.”
In their senior seasons, Stephens, an outfielder and pitcher, played in 49 games. Adams, an outfielder, appeared in 27 games.
Science Hill alumni have enjoyed plenty of team success recently at the college level. Matthew Beaird was a catcher on Coastal Carolina’s 2016 NCAA national championship team. Pitcher Landon Knack and infielder Jordan Holly played on the 2018 Walters State team that reached the NJCAA Junior College World Series final.
Stephens and Adams are happy to join the exclusive group.
“It means a lot when you look at that tradition,” Adams said. “You look at all the talent that has come through Science Hill, the guys that came before us and the guys who are going to come after us. They know they have something to play for with the name on their chests. It makes you feel proud to be a part of it.”
They’re also proud to be part of Tennessee Wesleyan’s tradition.
Stephens, a two-year starter in the outfield for the Bulldogs, had bigger numbers at the plate his sophomore and junior seasons. He finished his college career with five home runs, 21 doubles, four triples, 60 RBIs, 118 runs scored and a .262 batting average.
He started two games as a pitcher and appeared in seven overall his senior season with a 3.52 ERA.
“It was nice to get back on the mound,” Stephens said. “I went there as a two-way guy, so it was nice to get my feet wet, have a little fun with it.”
Adams had a .258 batting average with a .438 on-base percentage. Blessed with speed, he was also used as a courtesy runner and credited with 19 stolen bases.
The Bulldogs (56-10) started the season by winning their first 11 games. That 11th victory, an 8-3 win at then No. 3-ranked Georgia Gwinnett, let them know it could be a special season.
“That was a big win for us,” Stephens said. “A lot of the guys we get are guys who transfer in one or two years. We tried to explain to them what type of team they were, how tough they were and what they were going to do. When we played them, we came out swinging first and they weren’t able to swing back.”
Adams added, “That win boosted our confidence, especially with them being No. 3. It was the first time any of us got a win down there. We made a statement and after that, we felt like we could play with anyone.”
Wesleyan won the Appalachian Athletic Conference regular-season championship and went undefeated through the AAC tournament, beating Union (Ky.) 10-2 in the championship game at Kingsport’s Hunter Wright Stadium. The Bulldogs also played the opening-round bracket of the NAIA tournament in Kingsport, beating Webber International (Fla.) 8-4 in the championship to reach the World Series.
At the World Series, Wesleyan defeated Indiana Institute of Technology which had beaten the Bulldogs twice in the regular season. Next, both Stephens and Adams played in the Bulldogs’ 15-9 victory over Georgia Gwinnett to surpass the record of 53 wins set by Wesleyan’s 2012 national championship team.
Two wins over St. Thomas and the 2019 Bulldogs were national champions.
“When the game ended, it was awesome,” Adams recalled. “We were down on the field taking pictures and a little kid came on the field and asked me for my cleats. When I took them off, I was thinking, ‘I’m officially done and it’s over.’ But what a better way to go out than to win a national championship.”
Stephens, who scored two runs in the World Series, added: “My baseball experience is whole. I feel I’ve checked every box that I wanted to in baseball. Everything I wanted out of baseball I’ve done and I can’t thank all the people around me enough. Friends, family, everybody from top to bottom, I thank all of them.”