E.A. Sports Today

Getting a handle on baseball

Analysis: Our man wrings out a soggy start to the season

By Brant Locklier
For East Alabama Sports Today

The Calhoun County High School Baseball Tournament concluded Monday night, fittingly with a light misty rain making things a little slippery, but you have to give Alexandria coach Andy Shaw and all his players and volunteers a lot of credit for doing a remarkable job having the field ready for play.

The staff at Sacred Heart did a great job running the tournament while also having its basketball team win the Class 1A state basketball championship at the same time.

Our trip through the county tournament and sneaking in games between raindrops enabled us to see every team except Faith Christian, Jacksonville, Jacksonville Christian and Anniston. Part of the fun in traveling about the county and talking with baseball fans is getting their take on their team and the others in the area.

Alexandria (9-2) is enjoying top billing in the county by rolling through the County Tournament in impressive style, outscoring their opponents 39-5 and defeating Oxford 10-4 in the finals. The Valley Cubs have had four shut-outs from their pitching staff and have scored more than 10 runs in a game seven times this season.

I don’t think I have seen anybody consistently hit the ball harder than shortstop Dalton Cobb; the ball makes a different sound off his bat. The rest of the Valley Cubs come at you in waves from either side of the plate and battle on every pitch until they walk or get one they can hit. I love their pitching with right-hander Cody Dodd and big lefty Justin Whitley. They have the talent to go a long way this year in Class 5A.

Oxford (6-2) is always ready to play under coach Wes Brooks. This year he has a young but very aggressive team that plays a lot of small ball and has a lot of team speed. The Yellow Jackets do not seem to have the big sluggers that can belt home runs, but they have a bunch of lefties who can hit and run that will give right-handed pitching fits. I am impressed with the pitching I’ve seen of Jake Cook, Andy Hammond and Dillen Miller.

The Yellow Jackets will play a very tough schedule as usual and this team is going to be fun to watch. The enthusiasm and approach of this team makes it a serious threat to run at the Class 6A state title. They have to control their aggressiveness a bit — in the county final they had two runners picked off and one doubled up on a fly ball. The good news is they will continue to improve throughout the season.

A unique element to the Jackets’ approach is they play against the game, logging a series of points for various situations that keeps them competing whether they’re up by 10 or down by 10. They set a season high for bonus points in their win over Central-Phenix City Saturday.

White Plains (8-4) is always good. Coach Chad Hudson always has his Wildcats playing good baseball against a strong schedule. This team battles you to the end. I saw them overcome big deficits against Priceville behind some clutch hitting of Drew Hudson. They have a good defense and shortstop Dillon Greenwood can make all the plays.

Piedmont (3-4) has had the misfortune of playing Alexandria three times this season already and seven of its players involved in the basketball team’s run to the Class 3A state basketball championship game.

The Bulldogs have great pitching in Taylor Hayes and Peyton Whitten and that will carry them a long way. Hayes just recently had end an impressive streak of 30-plus consecutive scoreless innings. This team can play and as soon as it finds a rhythm and gets in some practice time it will be playoff bound.

Jacksonville (4-2) lost a lot of players off of last year’s squad, but bring back Sid Thurmond who may be the most exciting player in the county; the centerfielder-pitcher can run, hit and throw with the best of them. He has a great bat, makes great plays in the field and is a tough pitcher when he gets on the mound.

Weaver and Wellborn are teams that will scrap and fight you. They both need more pitching, but Bearcats lefty Jake Garrett has excellent stuff to go with Joseph Langley and catcher Dean Munroe. I like the way Wellborn’s Landon Machristie throws on the mound. Leadoff hitter Kevin Mixon and clean-up hitter T.J. Sanders are solid players.

Ohatchee has gotten off to a 4-4 start that serves notice it could be off to a good season. Michael Cherry and Caleb Dickie have been swinging hot bats to support the pitching of Jaylon Jenkins and Blayde Crump.

Saks (2-5) is trying to get back in the mix after a down year last season. The Wildcats have decent hitting, but are thin on pitching. Joseph Duke has been unhittable on the mound at times this year and can swing a big bat at the plate.

Pleasant Valley (1-6) lost a lot of starters from a year ago and has gotten off to a slow start. I like the way R.J. Simpson throws the ball on the mound for the Raiders. He is also a threat at the plate.

Donoho (2-3), Faith (2-3) and JCA (3-2) are all fighting the effects of being a 1A school and having to play mostly bigger schools, but they give good effort and can hope these games will toughen them up come playoff time. The small schools really hurt when it comes to pitching and playing several games in a short period of time. It is very difficult to get the pitching depth you need when your pool of students to pull from is smaller than everyone else’s.

Here is a list of games you just have to try and see …

March 17 — Piedmont at Wellborn
March 19 — Wellborn at Piedmont (2)
March 31 — Wellborn at Oxford
April 4 — White Plains at Alexandria
April 7 — Jacksonville at White Plains
April 9 — White Plains at Jacksonville (2)
April 10 — Alexandria at Oxford (2) — rematch of County Tournament final
April 11 — Wellborn at Jacksonville (2)
April 13 — Alexandria at White Plains
April 14 — Piedmont at Jacksonville (2)

Baseball coaches, report your game results — and suggest story ideas — to East Alabama Sports Today by texting 256-239-6715 or emailing musky@wrightmediacorp.com. Players, encourage your coaches to report your results to the website, which gives sports fans a free alternative to all things sports in Calhoun County.

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