Local schools gain experience in spring break tourneys
by Brandon Miller
bmiller@annistonstar.com
Mar 30, 2013 | 3814 views |  0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Piedmont and Jacksonville participated in the Bradey Munroe Memorial Tournament over the spring break weekend. Others local teams headed to the beach to play in the Gulf Shores Classic. (Photo by Trent Penny)
Piedmont and Jacksonville participated in the Bradey Munroe Memorial Tournament over the spring break weekend. Others local teams headed to the beach to play in the Gulf Shores Classic. (Photo by Trent Penny)
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Baseball and softball players from several Calhoun County schools headed to the beach during spring break, just as many of their classmates did.

But instead of spending time on the sand at Gulf Shores, they played on infield dirt, gaining experience against quality opponents and enjoying a bonding experience with teammates.

Alexandria and Oxford played in the Gulf Shores Classic baseball tournament, while Pleasant Valley, Saks and Alexandria participated in the softball side of the event.

“That’s where some of the best teams in Alabama go,” Pleasant Valley coach David Bryant said.

The competition was heavy in both sports with both Alexandria and Oxford playing Class 6A top-ranked Smiths Station in baseball, while the Yellow Jackets also fell to No. 5 Fairhope, the team they defeated to win the 6A state championship a season ago.

“We hope facing good teams and good pitchers helps us in the area, so when we get there it’s nothing we haven’t seen,” Valley Cubs baseball coach Andy Shaw said. “We’re going to see pitchers just as good as we saw.”

While most teams learn from mistakes while facing the elite of higher classifications, Pleasant Valley shined in the face of adversity, defeating Class 4A top-ranked Haleyville and nearly beating Class 6A fourth-ranked Hillcrest.

“Our starting catcher, Tori Shepard, got hit in the mouth during warm-ups for Haleyville, so we had to play without her. And our starting pitcher, Anna Craven, had a shoulder issue so she couldn’t pitch,” Bryant said. “We ended up beating Haleyville with our No. 2 pitcher and catcher. That made it even better.”

But with heavy competition being faced every day, teams also faced a lot of down time that wasn’t spent at the ballpark. Although beach conditions weren’t ideal, with windy and chilly weather all week, teams found other ways to enjoy their stay.

Shaw said Alexandria’s baseball players would run a mile together if they didn’t have a doubleheader or scout a few teams they didn’t play. Saks softball coach Michelle Lively said the Lady Wildcats sang karaoke on a machine she took down.

“There were funny moments every step of the way,” Lively said. “They were walking out in their onesie pajamas in the morning to go eat breakfast. I think that was the funniest part for me, seeing them in their footy pajamas, and they’re 15-year-olds.”

And during the down time and throughout the trip, bonding was just as important as anything else.

“Whenever that group of girls is together they have a great time together and love being around each other,” Lively said. “It’s funny that (Thursday) they were on Twitter and Facebook talking about how much they missed each other and it had only been about 12 hours that they weren’t together.”

But it’s not necessary to travel to Gulf Shores to get tournament-like experience.

Over the second half of spring break, White Plains and Cleburne County co-hosted the fifth annual Bradey Munroe Memorial Tournament in White Plains and Heflin.

“We have a good location to draw from various counties,” White Plains coach Chad Hudson said. “We obviously draw from Calhoun County. We’ve had teams from Etowah County and we get a lot of folks from Randolph and Cleburne counties. We like that we play folks that we normally play and some folks that we normally don’t play.”

The turnout for the Bradey Munroe Memorial Tournament included fierce competition from teams such as Class 4A ninth-ranked Jacksonville and Class 3A defending state runner-up Piedmont.

“It gives us a chance to practice a little bit and work on some things, but it’s a little bit of a distraction though because we’re not in school and you have to get all the schools together,” Piedmont coach James Blanchard said. “But it’s great for the practice.”

Cleburne County coach Vaughn Lee added it also gives White Plains and the Tigers a chance to raise some money, as well, while noting the tournament gives his team a chance to play at home in preparation for area play.

“Being able to play at home a lot, it’s going to help that we aren’t comfortable at home yet,” he said. “I think playing a lot of home games is really going to help us once area time comes. Of course we can make a little bit of money, too.”

Despite not being a traditional pool play or bracket event, the Bradey Munroe Memorial Tournament scheduled Jacksonville to play five games while Piedmont, White Plains and Cleburne County played four games each.

“I think for all of us coaches feel it’s a good break from area play, but you get to play games that are good preparation for area-type games,” Hudson said.

As the players return to school next week and area play approaches, all the experience picked over spring break needs to add up for teams if they hope to clinch a spot in the postseason next week. With only three weeks left until the playoffs begin, it’s an important stretch.

“We really believe we can win every game,” Bryant said. “When we step on the field, instead of thinking it not, we actually believe it.”

Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.

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