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April 30, 2014

WALLACE STATE BASEBALL: Lions seeking strong finish to conference play, some help within division

HANCEVILLE — Wallace State’s baseball team wants a sweep and a little help within the division as the Lions enter the final series of Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC) play on Thursday.

Wallace State (18-32, 10-14 ACCC) sits one game out of third place in the ACCC North, trailing Calhoun for the final playoff spot with four games remaining for each team. The Lions travel to Lawson State on Thursday for a doubleheader  and host the Cougars on Saturday beginning at 3 p.m. at James C. Bailey Stadium.

Meanwhile, Calhoun plays a four-game set against Snead State over the weekend. 

“Can we go into this weekend and take care of business? Sure. We just haven’t been consistent enough this season to assure ourselves of anything. All I know is we need one more win than Calhoun,” said Wallace State NJCAA Hall of Fame coach Randy Putman, who’s in his 25th season and has missed out on the postseason only once. “We’re probably doing the little things better than we were a month ago, and that’s helped us compete on a more consistent basis. We’ll see if we can do it against Lawson State. They are much better than they were when we faced them the first time.”

Wallace State swept Lawson State during a three-game series on March 28-29, winning 7-2, 5-2 and 4-2. 

The Lions have a shot of sneaking into the conference tournament because they won three of four games against Calhoun two weekends ago.

Wallace State has survived due to its recent good work in the starting rotation. Alex Hegner is 3-4 with a 2.33 ERA in 69 2/3 innings, while Grant Bennett is 4-6 with a 1.76 ERA in 11 appearances. Bennett, a sophomore from Hazel Green, has averaged a strikeout per inning in 66 1/3 innings and also hurled five complete games among his eight starts.

Bennett, an All-Region performer in 2012 when the Lions won 41 games, has rebounded superbly from multiple arm issues that forced him to redshirt last season.

“Grant Bennett has a great attitude. He’s a bulldog on the mound. He’s got All-American numbers in every category but the win-loss column,” said Putman, who eclipsed the 900-win mark earlier this season. “He’s done everything from a pitching standpoint we can ask and has given us a chance to get into  the state tournament. Grant is a tremendous player and person.” 

Wallace State’s pitching staff has been ravaged with injuries, losing three pitchers, including opening day starter Izaac Yarbrough — a Vinemont graduate and Auburn signee — to Tommy John surgery and another to a torn labrum.

Freshman Drake Tucker leads Wallace State’s offense, hitting .271 with a homer and 23 RBIs. Luke Porter has added 20 RBIs.

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