Special To The Times
The Cullman Times
Wallace State’s baseball team begins its postseason quest today with a pitching staff that has compiled a division-best 3.19 ERA.
Coach Randy Putman, making his 23rd postseason appearance with the Lions, hopes that is a good omen heading into the Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC)/Region 22 tournament, as the Lions seek their first state title since 2006.
“Our pitching staff has been the backbone of our team and the reason we’ve had success,” said Putman, who is 11 wins away from 900 in his illustrious career. “I truly believe it’s as good of a pitching staff as I’ve ever had here. The pitching has carried us all year, and they’re going to have to carry us in the tournament. Our fate is going to be determined by whether we have a couple of guys step up and knock in some runs. We have no trouble getting on base, but, except for a few games, knocking them in has been a struggle for us all season.”
Wallace State, the North Division’s second seed, plays L.B. Wallace (34-12), the South’s top seed, at 12:30 p.m. today at the ageless Eagle Stadium in Ozark. An opening-round win will give the Lions (28-21-1) a bye until Monday.
Wallace State has three starters in the top five individually in ERA.
Sophomore ace Bret Marks is 7-4 with a division-best 1.72 ERA in 12 starts, tossing four complete games.
Jacob Croft, a Sylvania native, is 7-5 with a 3.03 ERA, good for third in the division, and has recorded 82 strikeouts in 74 innings. Alex Hegner has the fifth-best ERA (3.55) and is 3-4 in 10 starts.
Lefty Izaac Yarbrough hasn’t thrown enough innings to be eligible in the ERA race, but the freshman from Vinemont is 4-2 with a 1.85 ERA in 12 appearances, including nine starts. Reliever Robby Clements is 2-2 with three saves and a 2.77 ERA in 16 appearances.
The Lions’ collective 3.19 ERA is nearly a full run better than Shelton State, which has the second-best staff ERA at 4.05.
“All of those guys have been phenomenal this year and given us a chance to win every game,” Putman said. “I’m excited about those guys because you’ve got to have as many quality arms as possible if you want to win the tournament.”
Sophomore shortstop Nathan Vincent is Wallace State’s offensive leader in the three main categories, hitting .324 this season with five homers and 35 RBIs. He’s also swiped a team-high nine bases.
Jeremiah Tullidge is hitting .321 with a pair of homers and 20 RBIs and Sawyer Williams carries a .319 average and 24 RBIs into the tournament.
The tournament championship is scheduled for next Thursday at 1 p.m.
The Lions finished state runner-up last season after failing to qualify for the tournament in 2011.
“We’ve talked about the bad taste that was in our mouth after losing to Shelton State in the championship game,” Putman said. “You don’t ever want that. It was an accomplishment last year to get there, but you want to win it once you’re there. We believe we have a good chance to be there again, especially because of our pitching staff. It’s my job to get our guys to hit better. We start off with an excellent L.B. Wallace team. That will not be easy. It never has been and never will be.”