The area championships have been decided and the brackets are set as the first round of the state baseball playoffs are ready to get underway this weekend. While Wetumpka will be the only team from the county to host a series in the first round, Holtville and Stanhope Elmore also got into the postseason and will begin their quests for a state title on the road this weekend.
Wetumpka finished with a perfect 4-0 record in area play and will host Benjamin Russell in its opening series. The two teams agreed to move the first two games up to Thursday with the if-necessary Game 3 to be played Friday.
“It’s definitely not going to be easy but we know that every time we go out,” Wetumpka coach Michael Dismukes said. “Ben Russell is really good and they’re getting better. It’s going to be a great series and we’re looking forward to it.”
Benjamin Russell enters the postseason with a 21-10 record and winners in six of its last eight games. The Wildcats are led on offense by Brett Pitts, who has four homers and 22 RBIs this season while batting .427 at the plate.
Wetumpka will have to deal with the pitching depth of Benjamin Russell, a team which boasts five pitchers with a sub-three ERA with at least 22 innings pitched this season. The Indians hope to use some of the momentum from winning the area title at the plate against the Wildcat pitchers.
“They just took the first step on the ladder but our season isn’t over,” Dismukes said. “We have to keep getting better and get ready for next week. We want to keep building and see how far we can make a run at this thing.”
Wetumpka will host a postseason game for the first time since 2008 and is looking to make a run deep into the month of May. The program does have a state championship in its past but the team has not been past the second round since 1992.
“Our end goal is a state championship but we have to take it step by step, game by game, pitch by pitch,” Wetumpka outfielder Trey Jones said. “We have some work to do but we’re going to keep improving every day.”
While Wetumpka gets to host its first-round matchup, Stanhope (9-22) will go away from home to open its postseason. The Mustangs’ road does not start with an easy task with Russell County, the top-ranked team in Class 6A, waiting.
“As far as getting ready for Friday, we have to take a look at what Russell County does well,” Stanhope coach Wes Dunsieth said. “And then we have to work on our deficiencies, which right now is offense. We’re going to get in the cage and work on our fundamentals of hitting.”
Russell County (31-3) enters the postseason on an eight-game winning streak and has lost only two games against teams from Alabama this season. Logan Austin, an Auburn commit, leads a strong pitching staff which has a combined ERA of 1.48 this season across 189 innings.
Stanhope snapped an eight-game losing streak Monday night with a win against Saint James. However, the Mustangs still have plenty of worries but will attempt to avoid a first-round sweep for the third consecutive season.
“We took about a week off after that five-game winning streak and that didn’t help,” Dunsieth said. “Then we went to Hoover and played against teams we weren’t matched up well against. We’ve taken a step back since spring break.”
Holtville lost its chance at the Class 4A Area 5 title after losing the final two games of the series at Handley last week. However, the Bulldogs (18-7) still held the tiebreaker over Elmore County and are in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.
“You have to forget about what you’ve done and focus on how you’re going to respond,” Holtville coach Torey Baird said. “We’re to do what we need to fix what we did wrong at Handley and we hope that will give us a chance this weekend.”
After last season’s run to the quarterfinals, the Bulldogs will start its postseason run with a trip to Dallas County on Friday. Despite his recent struggles due to a minor leg injury, Drew Nobles is expected to be the starter in Game 1.
“He’s one of those guys that’s going to compete and give you a chance to win every time he’s on the mound,” Baird said. “Even with that little injury, he’s going to go out and give you his best every time.”