Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer |
Decatur Heritage's senior catcher Drew Atchley says this year's baseball team is different than last year's squad, which fell in the opening round of the Class 1A state playoffs to Hackleburg 12-0 in five innings. The two teams meet again Friday at 4:30 p.m. when the Eagles travel to top-ranked Hackleburg.
Young Decatur Heritage
program soars into quarterfinals
By Brooke Milam
firstname.lastname@example.org · 340-2460
The last time the Decatur Heritage baseball team traveled to Hackleburg, it was a short, but memorable visit.
"We drove an hour and a half to get beat in an hour and 15 minutes," Decatur Heritage coach Steve Atchley said.
The Eagles got beat 12-0 in five innings by Hackleburg in the first round of the Class 1A state playoffs last season. It was the first year for Decatur Heritage (14-17) to make the playoffs in the program's seven-year history.
Chalk up last season to experience, this year it is mostly the same players, but it is a different team that will take the field against top-ranked Hackleburg (34-4) in the state quarterfinals Friday. Friday's doubleheader in the best-of-three series will begin at 4:30 p.m. with an if-necessary third game scheduled for Saturday at 2 p.m.
And with Hackleburg assistant coaches there watching, the Eagles sent that message to its quarterfinal opponents in a second-round win over Cedar Bluff on Saturday: "This is a different team than last year," team captain Drew Atchley said Saturday after Decatur Heritage found out it would once again make the drive to Hackleburg. "It's a year more of everybody playing and being in the game. It's not going to be like last year."
Hackleburg assistants were at Decatur Heritage to see the Eagles score 21 runs in the fourth inning en route to a 22-9 five-inning win over Cedar Bluff.
"I'm still getting calls about what happened Saturday," Steve Atchley told his team at practice earlier this week.
The Eagles, who were winless in 2005, graduated two seniors off last year's playoffs squad — Jonathan Love and Josh Williams — and began this season with an element of confidence that was lacking in the past.
"We started something last year, but if we're totally honest we've far exceeded anyone's expectations. I've got three seniors (Luke Adams, Drew Atchley and Trent McLemore) who have meant so much to this team — strong Christians who have been great leaders," Steve Atchley said, fighting back emotions after Saturday's second-round win. "This has been a year for Heritage that nobody ever thought would happen."
Atchley said confidence and off-field leadership has translated into on-field advantages.
"We've hit the ball so much better this year," Steve Atchley said.
"I knew we'd have to hit the ball this year to be competitive. We've worked on that more than anything."
Senior catcher Drew Atchley is batting a team-leading .488 with seven home runs and 42 RBIs through the regular season.
Junior leadoff batter Bo Godwin is hitting .452 and has scored a team-best 39 runs.
Sophomore Chase Wright is at .425, followed by junior Brent Denson at .330, and freshman Chris Oliver at .325.
Senior pitcher-third baseman Luke Adams is 8-2 on the mound for the Eagles and is hitting .337 with three homers.
Adams and McLemore have been a part of the young Eagle program. The two were around the program as middle schoolers, enduring some tough times in an Eagles uniform. Now they are reaping the rewards.
"It was never an option to give up," Adams said. "Now we feel like we're moving in the right direction."
With plenty of underclassmen contributing, the seniors said their younger teammates are well aware from where the program has come.
"They know what we've gone through, and they appreciate it," McLemore said.
McLemore said before this season: "We were very familiar with the 10-run rule," meaning his team was often beaten in five innings.
Decatur Heritage took the first step in erasing some of those memories this season, with several marquee wins, including knocking off ranked teams with plenty of playoff experience.
The Eagles' wins over Athens Bible, Covenant Christian and Red Bay early in the season provided a confidence boost along with a victory over Tanner. The Eagles beat the Rattlers this season for the first time ever.
"That gave us some confidence and all through the year we've built on that," Steve Atchley said.
The Eagles are still proving themselves. Saturday's series-deciding win in the second round officially stamped Decatur Heritage as a contender in this year's playoffs.
"After this year, we feel like there's nothing we can't come back from. You're never out of it," Adams said.
All things considered, the Eagles said Hackleburg should not expect the same team that they downed last year in the opening round. And if they do, they're in for a big surprise.
"You can definitely tell a difference in confidence this year," McLemore said.
"This year they're just another baseball team — like us — and we're looking to go further. They'll have to actually earn it this year."
State quarterfinal baseball pairings
All series are best-of-three with two games Friday and a single game Saturday.
Decatur Heritage at Hackleburg, Friday at 4:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m.
Athens Bible at Covenant Christian, Friday at 1:30 p.m. and Saturday at 1 p.m.
Ranburne at West Morgan, Friday at 4:30 p.m. and Saturday at noon
Mars Hill at Hatton, Friday at 4:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m.
Danville at Hokes Bluff, Friday at 4:30 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m.
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