The Alabama High School Athletic Association allows baseball teams three weeks at the beginning of the summer to play together, and East Limestone recently put those three weeks to good use.
The Indians not only participated in the Athens Wood Bat Showcase Tournament, they finished in second place in the varsity division before falling to Madison Academy 6-4 in the championship game.
East Limestone also attended a team camp at Jacksonville State University, where one of the assistant coaches is a former Indians player.
“The state gives you three weeks to play during the summer, and we use the first of those weeks to have practices before playing in the wood bat tournament the next week,” East Limestone baseball coach Bradley Craig said. “Then the final week we do a team camp.”
Craig said the wood bat tournament was a great experience for his team, which won its pool and advanced to the semifinals, played at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. The Indians defeated Decatur in the semifinals before falling to Madison Academy in the finals.
“We really like using the wood bats,” Craig said. “Baseball coaches sometimes call wood bats a great equalizer. Sometimes a ball hit hard in the hole with an aluminum bat may be a routine ground ball with a wood bat. You can really feel it when you hit a ball solid with a wood bat. There's not as many cheap hits with a wood bat.”
High schools and colleges use aluminum bats, so the high school players had to get used to the experience during the wood bat tournament.
“Outfielders can play a little more shallow and try to keep the ball in front of them a little more,” Craig said. “You don't see that many balls hit over your head with a wood bat. We had maybe four or five home runs hit the whole tournament, and with aluminum bats it would have been in double digits.”
East Limestone capped off its three weeks of baseball with a trip to Jacksonville State for a team camp. Other teams that went to the camp were Athens, Austin, Loveless Academic Magnet Program (LAMP) and Lawrence County. While some schools visit different colleges for team camps, East Limestone continues to attend at Jacksonville State, partly because of a local connection.
“Mike Murphree is one of the assistant coaches at Jacksonville State, and he's an East Limestone grad,” Craig said. “It's great for our kids to see coach Murphree there being an assistant coach, having come from where they are at East.”
Mike Murphree is also the brother of Athens High girls basketball coach Eddie Murphree.
Craig said the camp was a great experience for his players, who learned a lot from the Gamecock coaches and players.
“It's an opportunity for these guys to get instruction from somebody else besides their coaches,” Craig said. “Sometimes it means a little more when these coaches at Jacksonville State say something as opposed to your normal coach you're with month after month.”