Picture a group of high school players at a wood-bat tournament in Albertville, staying in a cabin near other cabins housing other teams.
Upon returning to their cabin, White Plains players tripped over fishing wire strung between trees. They found bunks disturbed and a bucket above the door.
The Wildcats weren’t about to leave the pranks of their Springville counterparts unanswered. As pitching ace Cade Turner put, he and a couple of teammates stopped by Springville’s cabin for a late-night serenade, loud enough to awaken anyone.
There was more, but one gets the picture.
“We went crazy while they were asleep,” Turner said. “It was pretty funny. It was all in fun.”
And it was all in a summer’s bonding for a White Plains team that lost key one-run games and missed the state playoffs in 2009.
White Plains returned eight starters this season. Experience, a deep pitching staff and different expectations have the Wildcats at 16-3 headed into this weekend’s area series against Pleasant Valley.
Having swept series against Piedmont and Weaver, White Plains needs just one victory this weekend to secure a playoff berth.
But the Wildcats want more than a playoff berth.
“We can do anything that we put our minds to,” senior second baseman Brock Wright said.
That kind of thinking traces back to this past summer, when the Wildcats played in three offseason tournaments.
“We were very hungry in the offseason,” fourth-year coach Chad Hudson said.
“We felt like we underachieved last year and really have been on a mission since the summer to try to right some of the things that we felt like we came up a little short on last year.”
Three one-run games doomed White Plains last season, including two extra-inning games against Piedmont. Hudson called them “gut-wrenching losses” that came down to timely errors or losing leads late.
That motivated the Wildcats during the offseason.
“It was sure talked about a lot,” Hudson said.
He said the turnaround started when the Wildcats made their annual summer trip to Albertville, which included fishing and paintball between pranks. They also co-hosted a tournament with Jacksonville, then played host to a weekend tournament of their own.
Opponents included Springville, a previous stop in Hudson’s career, plus Benjamin Russell, Gadsden City, Dadeville and Jacksonville.
“We beat a lot of good teams and played a lot of 5As and 6As in the summer,” Hudson said.
“Summer is what it is. It doesn’t count, but it seemed to give us a new confidence that’s really kind of carried over.”
Turner said a 2-1 loss to Gadsden City seemed to typify the change in the White Plains team.
“A lot of people thought we’d just crumble,” he said.
Turner spearheads a strong rotation. The senior has a 1.73 ERA, having allowed just 11 hits and struck out 51 batters in 241/3 innings.
Junior Justin Turner is 2-0 in area play and got the win in a 9-4 victory at Alexandria on March 11.
Joel Ray, a sophomore, has given up just 12 walks in 311/3 innings as a starter and reliever.
All three pitchers have ERAs of 1.98 or better, and all three threw complete games against Weaver this past weekend.
“We have three guys who could be an ace for a lot of teams,” Hudson said. “We feel like we can match up with anybody because of our pitching. We feel like we can run our three out there against anybody else’s three and hold our own.
“Because of that, we believe we’ve got a chance every week.”
Wright, a senior, leads the way at the plate with a .500 batting average and 34 RBIs, and leadoff hitter Konner Amis bats .450 with 32 runs.
“These guys have grown up,” Hudson said. “When we get off the bus, we look the part now.
“We knew last summer, when all of this started, that we had the makings for a group that could have a special season.”
If the Wildcats go on to a deep postseason run, then credit wake-up calls — both received and given.
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org.