When the realignment for areas was announced last year, the Wetumpka and Stanhope Elmore baseball teams knew the rivalry series would be given even more meaning this season. After months of looking forward to the matchup, the two teams will finally meet on the diamond to settle the Class 6A Area 5 championship.
“It’s always a big series when you’re playing for an area title,” Wetumpka coach Michael Dismukes said. “We get the chance to play for a home game in the first round of the playoffs. And when it’s another team from the county, that ups the ante a little bit.”
Wetumpka (20-11) has already clinched a spot in the state tournament for the second consecutive season and has reached as high as No. 7 in the ASWA poll. The Indians started area play last week with a two-game sweep of Selma, beating the Saints 10-0 and 17-0.
While the Mustangs will enter the series as the underdog, they are in the same situation Wetumpka is in and are looking to win an area title for the second consecutive season. Stanhope (8-19) also swept Selma in its first area series and will need two wins against Wetumpka to secure that home game in the first round of the state playoffs.
“We’re trying to focus on what we do well,” Stanhope coach Wes Dunsieth said. “There’s no secret that Wetumpka has been playing well this season so we have to focus on what we need to do and not worry about the other team.”
Last season, Stanhope was entering the final area series of the regular season in a very similar position. The Mustangs were 8-22 on the season and had to travel to Chilton County with an area title on the line.
Stanhope dropped the first game of the series but fought back, winning the series with a 12-11 victory in the tiebreaker to earn the area title.
“If you think back to last year, we had to play Chilton County as the underdog in area play,” Dunsieth said. “I think having that mentality this year can help us. It’s an extra incentive to get up for these games.”
The teams’ records may be in favor of Wetumpka but the Indians are not paying too much attention to that entering this week’s rivalry series. Dismukes said his team will not have any problem understanding the challenge ahead of them.
“This is one of those games you have to throw records out the window,” Dismukes said. “The team who plays the best that day will win. I think because it’s a rivalry, that helps us to stay focused. We’re going to be ready to go.”
Stanhope Elmore will host the first game of the series Thursday night with the first pitch scheduled for 4:30 p.m. It may seem more important to have home-field advantage for Game 2 and the possible tiebreaker but Dunsieth said he believes starting at home can help his team get off to a quick start.
“You would like to have that doubleheader at home but I think playing at home first really helps the mentality of the team,” Dunsieth said. “Being at home just brings more of a routine that the players are comfortable with.”
Dismukes agreed there may be an advantage to having the doubleheader of an area series at home but he does not feel like it would make a difference in the outcome. Wetumpka will host Games 2 and 3 of the series beginning at 4:30 p.m. Friday.
“You always like getting to play that deciding game at home,” Dismukes said. “It may not change much but I guess you can say it’s an advantage because the mindset is different and you have some extra confidence at home.”
Wetumpka is currently riding three-game losing streak after a tough weekend against Pelham and Andalusia. While each result has its own significance, Dismukes said it was important for the team to move on and focus on what is ahead.
“That’s what we talked about this week,” Dismukes said. “We have to regroup and put it behind us. The goal is ahead of us still. We’ve played well all year but those things happen. I think the character of this team will help them bounce back so I’m not too worried about what happened over the weekend.”
Stanhope has had its own share of losing streaks this season and have lost its last five games, including a 9-8 loss to Beauregard in extra innings on Monday night. Dunsieth said his team is focused on the second half of the season ahead of them and knows there is still time to get hot.
“That’s what we have been trying to focus on during our off time,” Dunsieth said. “We’re not here to play Wetumpka and then end our season. We’re still in the playoffs and we have to keep going to prepare for that.”