E.A. Sports Today

Play like No. 1

Newly top-ranked Alexandria shows pitching, explosive hitting and flash in the field while sweeping Jasper 3-0, 13-5 in first-round series

First-year Alexandria coach Zac Welch talks to his team after the Valley Cubs swept Jasper in Friday’s first-round Class 5A playoff series. (Photo by Joe Medley)

By Joe Medley
East Alabama Sports Today

ALEXANDRIA — How well would Alexandria wear a statewide No. 1 ranking in the playoffs?

So far, so good.

Andrew Allen pitched a four-hit shutout in Game 1, and bats awoke in Game 2 as the Valley Cubs beat visiting Jasper 3-0 and 13-5 on Friday to advance to the second round of the Class 5A playoffs.

Alexandria (28-5) extended its winning streak to 11 games dating back to a spring-break split with Baker and will play its second-round series at fourth-ranked Arab, coached by former Saks and White Plains head coach Chad Hudson.

“I told the guys, we’ve got 24 hours to enjoy this,” first-year Alexandria coach Zac Welch said. “The amount of baseball players in the state of Alabama that don’t win a playoff series is pretty staggering.

“The fact that our guys got to, I’m going to give them a day to enjoy it before we start talking about anybody else.”

It’s been a heady week for Alexandria.

Thursday morning’s release of the last Alabama Sports Writers Association poll of the season showed the Valley Cubs at No. 1 in 5A, up one spot. Long-timers close to Alexandria’s program could not pin down the history exactly, but it’s believed to be Alexandria’s first No. 1 ranking in baseball in 17 years.

“I don’t think they’ve really noticed,” Welch said. “If they have, they haven’t said a whole lot about it. I’ve been glad to hear that. I think the parents probably made more of a deal about it than they did.

“They understand we can’t really afford to look past anybody now.”

Slugger Aiden Brunner said the feeling “is not the same as when we were No. 2.”

“We’re just trying to keep the same mentality, play our game, don’t let none of that change us,” he said. “Teams are going to play just as hard against is if we’re No. 1 or No. 2.”

Allen sees the No. 1 ranking as something the Valley Cubs have worked for.

“I don’t think anybody’s really surprised by it, for sure,” he said.

Alexandria showed strength in all three elements Friday.

With college coaches holding radars behind the backstop, Allen struck out eight batters and walked one while keeping Jasper off of the scoreboard in Game 1. 

“He was very good,” Welch said. “Honestly, I didn’t think he was super sharp, but he had some life on his fastball and really competed well. He got himself in some trouble here and there and minimized the damage.”

Game 2 saw Alexandria fall behind 4-1 but take the lead with the first of its two five-run innings. Samuel Henegar’s two-run single and Brunner’s three-run home run highlighted the Valley Cubs’ five-run third.

Brunner called his home run a happy accident and by product of recent improvement in two-strike situations.

“I’m in there swinging, trying to put the ball in play, and I got two strikes, and it was a big moment, and I think I do a little better in big moments,” he said. “I just tried to stay short to the ball. I wasn’t trying to hit a bomb.”

His home run behind Henegar’s hit made it 6-4, and Alexandria led the rest of the way.

The Valley Cubs also posted a five-run fifth inning.

“We finally had some offense to go around,” Welch said. “I’m just glad with the way our guys competed.

“Those were two totally different styles of games, and I thought we handled ourselves very well.”

The most thrilling plays happened in the field. 

Left fielder Aaron Johnson flagged down a deep liner over-the-shoulder, Willie Mays style with Jasper leading Game 2 2-0 and runners on first and second base. In the seventh inning, Johnson made a falling catch at the fence.

Right fielder Ian Cartwright shot a throw home to gun down Lukas Clark at the plate.

They looked like the kinds of plays No. 1 teams make.

Cartwright is also a relief pitcher, “and his arm really came into play there,” Welch said. “Aaron, the two balls that he caught in left field were in big spots in the game. They were trying to get something going, and it was great to stymie out their momentum.”

Cover photo: Alexandria’s Samuel Henegar hits a two-run single in the third inning of Friday’s Game 2. The hit ignited a five-run rally to take the lead. (Photo by Joe Medley)

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