See the top storylines for this week’s AHSAA state baseball championships

See the top storylines for this week’s AHSAA state baseball championships

Hillcrest’s Jackson Henderson pitches against Spanish Fort during the AHSAA Class 6A Game 3 semifinal at Hillcrest High School in Tuscaloosa, 

 

 

Hillcrest fans ring cowbells during the AHSAA Class 6A Game 3 semifinal at Hillcrest High School in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday, May 11, 2024.

 

 

The 2024 AHSAA state baseball finals open Monday at Jacksonville State.

 

Game 1 of the Class 3A and 5A series will be played at Jim Case Stadium on Monday.

 

The remainder of the opening games will be played throughout the week at Oxford’s Choccolocco Park.

 

Games 2 and Game 3, if necessary, of every series will be at Jacksonville State.

 

Here are 10 things to look for as the state finals open:

 

The Final ticket

 

Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa punched the last ticket to the state finals on Saturday afternoon.

 

The Patriots (30-12) defeated Spanish Fort in Game 3 of their semifinal series to advance to the 6A final against No. 1 Hartselle.

 

Hillcrest knocked off three Mobile-area teams on the way to the finals – Faith Academy, Baldwin County and now Spanish Fort. The Patriots swept Faith and went to three games with both the Tigers and Toros.

 

Hillcrest is the only team that wasn’t ranked in the final ASWA poll to make the state finals.

 

Bob Jones players watch from dugout as the game wind down. James Clemens vs. Bob Jones baseball semi-final playoff game 3 at Bob Jones High School in Madison, Ala. Thursday May 9, 2024. 

 

Still the 1s

 

Three teams that were ranked No. 1 in the final Alabama Sports Writers Association baseball rankings at the end of the regular season have reached the state finals.

 

They are Bob Jones (7A), Hartselle (6A) and Alexandria (5A).

 

Bibb County (4A), Piedmont (3A), Vincent (2A) and Appalachian (1A) were No. 1 in their respective classifications but already have been eliminated.

 

Here’s how all the finalists ranked in the final ASWA poll:

 

7A: No. 1 Bob Jones vs. No. 4 Central-Phenix City

 

6A: No. 1 Hartselle vs. unranked Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa

 

5A: No. 1 Alexandria vs. No. 9 Mobile Christian

 

4A: No. 10 American Christian vs. No. 3 Corner

 

3A: No. 2 Thomasville vs. No. 8 Westbrook Christian

 

2A: No. 4 Ariton vs. No. 8 Mars Hill Bible

 

1A: No. 2 Sumiton Christian vs. No. 9 Sweet Water

 

 

Only one team will have a chance to repeat as a state champion this year.

 

Ariton defeated Vincent for the Class 2A title a year ago.

 

The Purple Cats (28-8-1) are back again this year after sweeping Bayshore Christian in the state semifinals last week.

 

They will play Mars Hill Bible. Game 1 is set for 11 a.m. Wednesday at Oxford’s Choccolocco Park.

 

“When you win it – and that is something they’ve had to get used to – you got a target on your back every game, all year,” Ariton coach Bob Pickett said. “To win 28 games and to go back is a testament to the players. You have to have good players to do that. I tell them all the time, ‘Write your chapter in the Ariton baseball history book.’ Right now, they are the first time to play for it for the second time.”

 

The other 2023 champions were Vestavia Hills (7A), Oxford (6A), Holtville (5A), Etowah (4A), Houston Academy (3A) and Appalachian (1A).

 

Hartselle coach Jake Miles applauds his team after their victory over Oxford during the AHSAA Class 6A Game 3 semifinal at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Ala., Thursday, May 9, 2024. (Will McLelland | preps@al.com)

 

A perfect 10?

 

Hartselle is back in the Class 6A state finals for the third time in four years. The Tigers won a tight, three-game series against reigning champ Oxford in the semifinals.

 

The deciding Game 3 in the series was played at Jacksonville State’s Jim Case Stadium, giving Hartselle a preview for the upcoming week.

 

The Tigers will be looking for State Title No. 10. They last won in 2022, defeating Pelham. That came after a controversial finish in 2021 that ended with Faith Academy defeating Hartselle. The Tigers looked to have the game — and the series — won in the bottom of the seventh on a sacrifice fly but, on appeal, the third base umpire ruled the potential winning run left early. Faith won the next inning.

 

Currently, three other AHSAA schools are tied with Hartselle with nine state baseball titles: UMS-Wright, Vestavia Hills and Hokes Bluff.

 

G.W. Long, which was eliminated in the second round this year by Bayshore Christian, leads the way with 17 state titles. Sweet Water has 10 championships and could add an 11th this week.

 

Central’s Briggs Cameron (9) hits a double during a AHSAA Class 7A baseball semi-final game against Auburn on Tuesday, May 8, 2024, in Phenix City, Ala. (Stew Milne | preps@al.com)

 

Return of the Red Devils

 

Central-Phenix City will make its third consecutive trip to the Class 7A state finals.

 

The Red Devils won the crown in 2022, defeating Hewitt-Trussville in three games. A year ago, they lost in three games to Vestavia Hills. The final game didn’t finish until 12:21 a.m. due to thunderstorms throughout the day.

 

“Vestavia has a great club,” Central coach AJ Kehoe said following Game 3. “Our guys really handled adversity, I thought, well. The long delay, us being on Eastern time. It’s almost 2 in the morning for us, but our guys gutted it out and gave it their all. We came up short. Sometimes that happens.”

 

This year, the Red Devils enter the 7A series against No. 1 Bob Jones with the best record in the state at 39-3. Their only in-state losses came against rival Auburn in the regular season (3-2, 5-3). They avenged those by sweeping the Tigers last week in the state semifinals.

 

Central’s first loss came way back on March 2 against Mill Creek, Ga. (3-2).

 

The Class system

 

Mobile Christian has a chance this week to win its sixth state title since 2015 in its fourth classification.

 

The Leopards have continued to move up in class due to their success and to the AHSAA’s private school competitive balance system.

 

They won 2A titles in 2015 and 2016, a 3A title in 2018 and back-to-back Class 4A titles in 2021 and 2022.

 

Jason Smith’s team will go for a 5A title this week against No. 1 Alexandria.

 

Private party

 

Mobile Christian won’t be the only private school team looking for a title this week.

 

In fact, five of the 14 teams in Northeast Alabama are private schools. The others are Sumiton Christian (1A), Mars Hill (2A), Westbrook Christian (3A) and American Christian (4A).

 

In 2023, Houston Academy (3A) was the only private school team to win a state baseball title.

 

The Forecast

 

A year ago, thunderstorms caused multiple delays in the AHSAA state baseball tournament on multiple days.

 

In fact, the Class 7A championship series between Vestavia Hills and Central-Phenix City did not finish until after midnight.

 

Rain is in the forecast for at least three days this week. There is a 59 percent chance of precipitation on Monday, 65 percent on Tuesday and 62 percent on Friday.

 

The best days look to be Wednesday and Thursday. Only a 23 percent chance of rain on Wednesday and just 11 percent on Thursday.

 

The good news is the field at Jim Case Stadium is turf so, if lightning is not in the area, teams can likely play. But it may be a stop-and-go type week again.

 

Jaxson Brodie Dunlap during the game at Westminster Christian Academy on Thursday, May 9, 2024(Eric Schultz/preps@al.com)

 

Making history

 

Three teams will have a chance to make school history with their first state baseball titles this week.

 

Bob Jones (7A), Alexandria (5A) and Corner (4A) have never won. Corner is a first-time finalist.

 

Bob Jones finished as runner-up to McGill-Toolen in 2019 and Daphne in 2001. Alexandria was runner-up to UMS-Wright in 2010 and St. Paul’s in 1999.

 

AHSAA state finals schedule

 

Here is a look at the week in Oxford/Jacksonville

 

Monday

 

At Jacksonville State

 

1 p.m. – Class 3A, Game 1: Thomasville (30-4) vs. Westbrook Christian (24-11)

 

4 p.m. – Class 5A, Game 1: Mobile Christian (24-10) vs. Alexandria (30-9)

 

Tuesday

 

At Jacksonville State

 

10 a.m. — Class 3A, Game 2 and if Game 3: Thomasville (30-4) vs. Westbrook Christian (24-11)

 

4 p.m. – Class 5A, Game 2 and if Game 3: Mobile Christian (24-10) vs. Alexandria (30-9)

 

At Oxford

 

11 a.m. – Class 1A, Game 1: Sweet Water (22-15) vs. Sumiton Christian (26-4)

 

2 p.m. – Class 7A, Game 1: Central-Phenix City (39-3) vs. Bob Jones (42)

 

Wednesday

 

At Jacksonville State

 

10 a.m. – Class 1A, Game 2 and if Game 3: Sweet Water (22-15) vs. Sumiton Christian (26-4)

 

4 p.m. — Class 7A, Game 2 and if Game 3: Central-Phenix City (39-3) vs. Bob Jones (42-8)

 

At Oxford

 

11 a.m. – Class 2A, Game 1: Ariton (28-8-1) vs. Mars Hill Bible (26-10)

 

2 p.m. – Class 4A, Game 1: American Christian (27-16) vs. Corner (31-7)

 

Thursday

 

At Jacksonville State

 

10 a.m. — Class 2A, Game 2 and if Game 3: Ariton (28-8-1) vs. Mars Hill Bible (26-10)

 

4 p.m. — Class 4A, Game 2 and if Game 3: American Christian (27-16) vs. Corner (31-7)

 

At Oxford

 

11 a.m. – Class 6A, Game 1: Hartselle (32-9) vs. Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa (30-12)

 

Friday

 

At Jacksonville State

 

10 a.m. — Class 6A, Game 2 and if Game 3: Hartselle (32-9) vs. Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa (30-12)

 

 

Gideon Canice

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