With six seniors and four juniors on Michael Anderson’s 14-man squad, the Lineville skipper knows now, as opposed to later, is the time for his team to make a run at the Class 2A state baseball championship.
They’ll continue on that quest then they travel to face No. 5 Westbrook Christian in the state quarterfinals today. Game 1 of a doubleheader in the best-of-three series begins at 4:30 p.m. with Game 3, if necessary set for 1 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s this year,” said Anderson, in his third season. “These guys have been playing together their whole lives. I came along at a good time when they had already been playing together a little bit. They were still kind of young but coming on.
“I know that this is the year. Next year will be a rebuilding year.”
Lineville reached the second-round of the state playoffs a couple years ago when they lost to eventual champion American Christian Academy. Back then, many of the current team’s members were still wet behind the ears. The Aggies (21-8) have overcome early season difficulties and the oft-under publicized distractions that come along with being a high school senior.
“It’s been difficult,” senior outfielder Jonathan Glenn said. “Everything’s a lot crazier, schoolwork, everything.”
The Aggies lost four of their first five to start the season, dropping a pair against Class 3A Buelah, 4A Cleburne County and their area-opener to Randolph County in a 15-13 shootout.
The short answer to their woes was longer practices.
“We started putting in the time again to get better,” senior Scott Kurley said. “Perfect pregame, working on the fundamentals, hitting soft toss, being in the cage, working on hitting the ball up the middle. That really helped us to focus and get back on the right track.”
The Aggies came out of the funk with a five-game winning streak and have won 15 of their last 18 since a 2-0 defeat against Saks in the Bradey Munroe Memorial tournament back in mid-March. They swept Fultondale and area foe Woodland to advance in the first-two rounds.
Lineville whet its palate, getting a sample of success reaching the state semifinals in football this past fall. Though the taste was “bittersweet”, as Kurley described it, as the Aggies lost in a heartbreaker to Reeltown in Week 14, it also made them privy to what it takes to make a deep postseason run.
“It gave us a lot of confidence,” said Glenn, who played tailback on the football team. “I think we can do it this year because we’ve got a lot of seniors and we’ve got enough people with experience and we know what we’ve got to do to win.”
Coincidentally, the Aggies upset then undefeated Westbrook Christian on the road in the second round of the state football playoffs.
They’ll have their hands full with Westbrook’s baseball team (23-8) which swept Section and Ider to advance, shutting out their opponents in three of the four contests.
Westbrook’s starting pitching trio of senior Bar Miller, junior John Mayfield and sophomore Cazenave is a combined 19-2 on the season. Miller their ace has a mark of 8-0, including a perfect game. They also have 11 players who have hit home runs this season, including Jacob Mayfield. The slugger has hit 15 home runs and entered the playoffs batting .533. John Mayfield (.433) and Hunter Bellew (.400) entered the playoffs with stellar averages as well.
Lineville will combat it with starting pitchers Adron Logan and Jesse Giddens. Expect Lamonyan Burney to provide power at the plate along with Giddens.
“On paper, they’re probably better than us at just about everything, probably not a lot better but just a little bit better than us,” Anderson said. “I really feel like we’ve been together long enough. I’m hoping we’re going to want it way more than they want it and just make the plays and not give up and just fight.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.