By Blake Ells
Oak Mountain’s baseball team leapt to third in the latest 7A ASWA poll, behind top-ranked Auburn and McGill-Toolen, despite losing two games at the Gulf Coast Classic over spring break.
“A big reason we try to go down there is to see some good teams,” said Oak Mountain coach Derek Irons. “It’s a good opportunity to see some good pitchers and try to come back better than we were. We’d love to win them all, but with area play starting next week, the focus is really on becoming the best team that we can in preparation for those games.”
At this year’s tournament, the Eagles fell to Russell County, the top-ranked team in 6A, and Foley. They notched a 2-0 win over Hendersonville, of Tennessee. The match set up a pitcher’s duel as Hendersonville started Auburn commitment Hayden Mullins on the mound and the Eagles went with Ole Miss commitment Jackson Kimbrell, who struck out 15 batters.
The Eagles also topped Corner 17-6. Corner started Mississippi State commitment Sam Knowlton. Kimbrell was 3-for-4 at the plate with two doubles and three RBIs.
The Eagles’ pitching rotation is deep, and it’ll be what they rely on as they try to make a postseason run. Behind junior Kimbrell is Samford commitment Gene Hurst, a senior who is the all-time career wins leader at Oak Mountain, and Wallace State commitment Wesley Dennis, also a senior.
Hurst threw a complete game in the loss to Russell County over spring break, giving up just six hits and striking out six, and Dennis defeated Hoover earlier this season when the Bucs were holding on to the top spot in 7A.
Area play begins this week with a home-and-home against Mountain Brook.
“They’ve got a really good team,” Irons said of the Spartans. “I think they’ve got most everybody back from last year, and they’ve been playing well lately. We know we’ll have our hands full with them. There are so many good teams in the Birmingham area that you just know there aren’t going to be many easy games, many easy area series or any easy path to the playoffs.”
The Home Stretch
It’s a nine-week season that Irons says conveniently divides into three three-week seasons: three weeks to get to know the team, three weeks with a midseason spring break tournament and three weeks of area play.
“That last three weeks is really what your season comes down to,” Irons said. “All the work and all the preparation really comes down to that. Whether the first six weeks have gone well or gone poorly, you’re usually judged by those last three weeks.”
Mountain Brook, Spain Park and Huffman will challenge the Eagles for these next three weeks. Irons said his team will take lessons learned at the Gulf Coast Classic with them as the season heats up.
“I feel like we learned a lot about our own effort and our ability to overcome adversity,” Irons said. “The Russell County game was a tough one against a really good pitcher. We battled and battled, and we just weren’t able to come out on top. That was at 4:30 on Monday, and we had to turn around and play at 9 a.m. on Tuesday against a really good team (Hendersonville.) So I was very encouraged that we brought good effort, good energy, good focus and were able to bounce back and win.” ❖