If there was ever a baseball tournament that didn’t need any hype because of the quality of teams playing in it, this is it. The 2014 ACCC Baseball Tournament that begins Friday morning will feature the current number one junior college team in the country. It also features the defending junior college national championship team. Plus there are another eight of the top baseball teams in the state.
When you put all of that together, it should make for a very good week of baseball at Ozark’s Eagle Stadium.
“On paper, I think this is one of the best fields we’ve ever had at this event,” said Wallace coach Mackey Sasser. Wallace, along with the city of Ozark, is hosting this event once again this year. “What more can you ask for when you’ve got the number one team in the country coming to town, and the defending national champion in town as well.”
That’s the good news. The bad news is, the Wallace Govs have to face the number one team in the country, Chattahoochee Valley of nearby Phenix City at 7:30 Friday night. The Pirates enter the tournament with an impressive 43-9 record on the season, 23-4 in conference action. But none of that concerns Sasser.
“No doubt about it, we’ve got to play our best game,” he said. “But we’ve got nothing to lose. The pressure is on them. They are the number one team in the country. But having said that, that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to try and win the game. I’m going to do everything I can to give us our best shot at winning the game.”
For openers, Sasser is going to start left handed pitcher Wes Carter. And Sasser made it clear that if Carter struggles, he is going to waste no time pulling him. He is going with Sawyer Betts as the first reliever. Betts is normally a starter
“It is very important for us to win that first game,” he said. “If we don’t win that first game, it’s going to very difficult for us to win this tournament.”
The winner of the Wallace-CVCC game gets a bye on day two and will not have to play again until Sunday. In a six-day tournament, that is very important because it saves pitching.
One team that knows CVCC quite well is Central Alabama. Not only is Wynn Fletcher’s Trojans the defending national champion, he also plays in the same division as the Pirates.
“CVCC got out in front early on, and they haven’t let up,” Fletcher said. “And this year they’ve got it all. They’ve got great pitching, their defense up the middle is as good as it gets, and they hit one through nine. I would say the tournament definitely goes through them this year."
Fletcher and the Trojans have their hands full if they want to repeat as champions this year. They will play the third game of the day against Snead State. Even though he won tournament last year, he doesn’t have the feeling he had last year.
“I felt better going into the tournament last year,” Fletcher said. “We just haven’t played good baseball the last couple of weeks. And last year when we won the state and the national, I never looked ahead. People were looking at the brackets to see who they might play next. I never looked at the bracket. I just looked at who we played next.”
Fletcher is preaching the same thing other coaches in this tournament are preaching to their teams.
“You have to play every play,” he said. “It’s all about execution. We’ve been through it all. We are one or two runs from being in the top 10, or one or two runs to being out of the top 100. If you don’t execute, one single mistake can turn into a big inning.”
Coming off winning a state and a national championship, Fletcher is a very good source to ask what it takes to win it all. But his answer is not what many would expect.
“It’s getting hot this time of the year,” he said. “There are going to be a lot of games played in this tournament, and they are all played on the same field. The field is going to get beat up. So it could all come down to who has the better infielders—who catches the ball and who makes the fewest mistakes. Just one more mistake than the other guy could be the difference.”
Fletcher’s team got hot at the right time last year. Sasser is hoping his team can do the same thing this year. So the fact that his Govs lost its last few games doesn’t concern him.
“I knew what I was doing,” he said. “We had to get ready for the tournament, so I played a lot of guys. We were already in, and we couldn’t improve our seeding. We just needed to get ready to play.”
The biggest issue for Sasser isn’t what happened the last couple of weeks, but what happened before the season started.
“We lost eight scholarship players before the season began. We lost four pitchers that we were counting on. We lost what may have been our entire starting outfield. But still we made it made it to the state tournament.”
So as the season comes to a climax, Sasser just wants one more thing from his guys.
“I just want them to step up and play. We’re a good team when we play like we’re capable of playing. If we pitch like we’re capable of pitching, make the plays, do the little things we need to do, and execute, we will be fine.