By Blake Ells
After winning the region, Mountain Brook’s baseball team caught some of its stiffest competition of the season in the first round of the state playoffs and ended the season early with a loss to James Clemens of Madison.
Despite that disappointment, catcher Clay Stearns was a near-unanimous selection to this year’s All-Over the Mountain Team.
“Hats off to James Clemens, they had a heck of a series,” said Stearns. “I think they had something like seven runs. They just hit the ball. Sometimes you get outmatched a little bit, and that happened. It wasn’t because we didn’t play well, they just played a little bit better.”
Mountain Brook’s area was a grueling test of its own, one of the state’s toughest. Winning that championship was quite a feat.
“This is one of the most close-knit baseball teams I’ve played on in my entire life,” Stearns said. “We had 18 seniors this year, and we’d go to the ends of the earth for each other. Every day we loved coming to the baseball field, practicing and playing. Starting with the spring break tournament, we got hot quick.”
The Spartans posted a 14-2 record leading into the postseason, a run that gave the Spartans much optimism for a bigger finish.
A two-sport star in high school, Stearns will continue his career in baseball. As a tight end, he was named to OTMJ’s All-Over the Mountain football team and the All-State team by the Alabama High School Athletic Association, and he was selected to play in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic. Next year, he’ll be a catcher at Snead State Community College in Boaz.
“Coach (Casey) Underwood at Snead State called me one day and said, ‘Hey, we want you to come down and visit,'” Stearns said. “And I was excited; I’d played a couple of summer ball tournaments there and I knew a lot of the people that are currently on the team that were (high school) seniors last year. When I went down there, I knew it was an immediate fit. The coaches are awesome. They really like helping guys get to the next level and get better every day at baseball. It’s a great atmosphere, and I really like all of the guys on the team.”
A Tough Choice
But he’ll miss football. It was a choice that was so difficult, he found himself hanging around spring practice because he didn’t know what to do without it.
“There were several times this spring that I’d go out there just to watch,” he said. “I’ve always played football. It’s been really weird not having that season to play next. But I had an unbelievable high school career. I’ve made memories and friendships that will last a lifetime, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. My dad’s a coach, so I still get all the updates.”
A lot of young players on the baseball team that he leaves behind will have to step up if the Spartans are to maintain that success next season. With 18 players graduating, coach Lee Gann faces quite a challenge,
“One of the big things that we wanted to do as a senior class, because of our size and how close we are, we wanted to set a standard for Mountain Brook baseball,” said Stearns. “In the past couple of years, we’ve lost a game here or there that has decided the season. We wanted to spend a lot of time and work hard on setting a standard for years to come. We’re losing a lot of seniors, but I have a lot of faith in these coaches. There’s a lot of unbelievable talent coming through Mountain Brook right now. They’ll be fine.”