2013 Year in review: Baseball

Published 10:29 pm Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Charles Henderson High School players pose for a photo after the AHSAA Class 4A state championship game against Brooks High School in Montgomery, Ala., Thursday, May 16, 2013. CHHS won 7-2 to claim the title. (Photo/Thomas Graning)

Charles Henderson High School players pose for a photo after the AHSAA Class 4A state championship game against Brooks High School in Montgomery, Ala., Thursday, May 16, 2013. CHHS won 7-2 to claim the title. (Photo/Thomas Graning)

Charles Henderson stood on top of the high school baseball world in 2013

Down in the heart of the football-crazed society of the Deep South, there lies a baseball oasis at the junction of Alabama State Road 87 and U.S. Highway 231 known as Troy, Alabama.

Teams from the Troy area, no matter the age group, are regularly near the top of their respective classifications. 2013 was no different.

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Charles Henderson led the pack by capturing the school’s second-ever state title. Pike Liberal Arts advanced to the AISA semifinals in their effort to go back-to-back, and Goshen and Pike County each took steps toward rebuilding their programs to get back to their winning ways.

Outside of the high school teams, Troy University notched 43 wins and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. The Troy recreation teams also turned in stellar seasons.

Charles Henderson was the wire-to-wire No. 1-ranked team in the Alabama Sports Writers Association poll in 2013, and for good reason.

The Trojans dominated nearly every opponent they met en route to a 40-3 season and the 2013 Alabama High School Athletic Association State Championship. Charles Henderson, led by a group of seven talented seniors including 2013 The Messenger Player of the Year Houston Mabray, went undefeated against 4A competition, including 10-0 in the playoffs.

Charles Henderson sent a new Alabama state record for single season winning percentage (with a minimum of 30 games played) and set a new school record of wins in a season.

In the state title series against Brooks High School, sophomore catcher Chase Smartt stole the show. Smart drove in nine runs in the two-game series, including a towering grand slam in game two that nearly wound up in the Alabama River beyond the right field wall as it clanged off the top of the wrought-iron fence that surrounds the complex.

The Trojans knocked off Brooks 7-2 in the series finale.

In addition to the ultimate prize of a state championship, the Trojans won the Terry Sikes Memorial Tournament, the Jason Armstrong FCA Classic and the 4A Area 3 Championship.

Charles Henderson ended the season on a 12-game winning streak.

After the celebration ended, Charles Henderson head coach Derek Irons summed up the incredible 2013 season.

“A lot of people deserve it, but not everybody gets it,” said Irons. “They got one percent better every day. They bought in and worked hard. They earned this.”

Mabray, Smartt, Irons, Joey Denison, Austin Ingram and Tripp Blackmon represented Charles Henderson on the All-Area team.

Pike Liberal Arts had the tough task of trying to do one of, if not the most challenging tasks in all of sports: win a title in back-to-back seasons.

Pike entered the 2013 season with a target on its back after capturing the 2013 AISA AAA title by knocking off Tuscaloosa Academy 15-10 in the 2012 finals.

The Patriots rolled through the majority of the season, but soon found out that Tuscaloosa was out for revenge. The Pats never found the winning combination against the Knights in 2013, and lost out in the semifinals of the AISA playoffs.

Legendary Patriot head coach Butch Austin said his team did a fine job.

“We played well at times, and not so well at other times,” Austin said. “If we had a hit or two here or there during the season, no telling what would have happened. We just didn’t get the hits or outs when we needed too. We will go back to work, and try again next year.”

Chandler Avant, John Stephen Grice, Brian Adams, Reid Dickey and Taytom Barnes represented pike on the All-Area team.

Goshen continued to make strides under third-year head coach Robby Kinsaul. The Eagles pieced together wins, but were unable to advance to the AHSAA playoffs after falling to region foe Elba late in the area finale.

Kinsaul, a coaching veteran despite his relatively young age, likes the future of the Goshen baseball.

“We took another step forward this year,” Kinsaul said after the season wrapped up. While we didn’t achieve what we wanted, we are headed in the right direction. We just have to keep marching forward and not take a step back. I have confidence in my guys, and know they will keep working.”

Senior outfielder Carlton Bean was the lone Eagle to make the All-Area team.

At the college level, the Troy baseball team staged a second-half-of-the-season rally culminating in the 2013 Sun Belt Conference regular season championship. The title also allowed the Trojans to take part in the NCAA Baseball Tournament in the Tallahassee Regional.

Troy knocked off in-state rival Alabama twice in the tournament, including a wild 9-8 win that saw Troy score four runs in the bottom of the final inning.

Troy’s middle of the lineup combination of Logan Pierce, Danny Collins and Trae Santos all heard their names called in June during the 2013 MLB First Year Player Draft. It marks the first time since 2007 that three Troy players were selected in the same draft class.

Collins, a junior, was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 13th round (389th overall pick), the Philadelphia Phillies selected Pierce, a senior, with their 15th round pick (451st overall pick), while Santos, a junior, was selected by the San Diego Padres in the 17th round (508th overall pick).

In recreation league action, two Troy teams brought home state championships. On July 11, the Dixie Minor Rookies and O-Zone Rookies completed a sweep of the state title just a few miles apart from one another in Muscle Shoals.

The Dixie Minor Rookies, led by head coach Chris Huner, captured the title in an 11-4 rout against the host team Muscle Shoals. The O-Zone Rookies went to extra innings to knock off AUM 9-7.

The City of Troy brought home two state titles within minutes in one town.

The two head coaches were proud of their team’s accomplishments.

“It says a lot about the community and Troy Parks and Recreation Department,” Huner said. “The effort that all the folks in Troy put in to program really shows how big recreation baseball is here in Troy.”

Copeland echoed Huner’s sentiments.

“We had two teams in that area, and both came home with the big trophy,” Copeland said. “There was good competition in both tournaments, and for Troy to win both says a lot about the talent and dedication to the sport in this town.”