HANCEVILLE, ALA. – Wallace State’s 10th-ranked baseball team enjoyed one of its best regular seasons in program history, compiling a 44-8 record and winning the Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC) North Division championship.
The Lions are now four wins shy from winning the program’s eighth ACCC tournament championship and first since 2006. After earning a first-round tournament bye, Wallace State plays Lawson State at 1 p.m. today at the ACCC/Region 22 Tournament in Ozark.
Scattered throughout Wallace State’s roster are former high school teammates from strong baseball programs such as Smiths Station, Cullman, Hartselle and Piedmont, among others.
Three years ago, the Smiths Station trio of Blake Rivera, Dalton Sinquefield and Devin Brown led the Panthers to the Class 7A state championship as high school juniors.
Now, they’re looking to cap off their Wallace State careers with another ring.
“Getting the chance to fight for a state championship in high school with these guys and now having a chance in college as the No. 1 seed in the tournament is great for all of us. We are going out there and trying to finish what we couldn’t last year. It’s been special to play together in college,” said Rivera, who has served as the team’s ace during his Wallace State career.
Added Sinquefield: “We lost the opening game of the playoffs our junior year of high school and never lost again. It was some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing baseball. We had to fight for it just like we’ll have to this weekend and on into next week.”
Rivera and Sinquefield have been a part of 90 wins at Wallace State in two seasons, each contributing significantly to the Lions’ success. They were both All-ACCC North Division selections as freshmen.
Rivera is perfect on the hill this season with a 10-0 record and a 1.75 ERA. He has recorded a conference-best 98 strikeouts in 67 innings – an impressive rate of 13 strikeouts per nine innings.
At the plate, Sinquefield is hitting .362 with six homers and 39 RBIs and leads the team with 54 runs scored.
Brown transferred to Wallace State during the offseason and has been a mainstay in the lineup over the past two months. He’s seventh in the league with a .385 average and has added three homers and 27 RBIs.
“I was interested in coming to Wallace State out of high school and I should have. I’ve had a good time this year, being a part of the success and back with these guys,” Brown said.
Sinquefield is thankful Brown has donned a Wallace State uniform as well.
“I can’t sit around and talk hitting with Rivera, so it means a lot to have Devin here,” Sinquefield quipped. “We seriously help each other out the best we can and analyze what we can do better.”
Wallace State coach Randy Putman, who has led the Lions to the postseason in 27 of 29 years at the helm, finds it important to recruit players from high-caliber high school programs like Smiths Station.
“All three of them have been instrumental in the success we’ve had this year. They’ve been excellent and we’re proud of them. For all of them being from the same high school, that’s a testament to Smiths Station’s program,” Putman said. “If you get guys from programs that have been successful, you don’t have to worry about teaching the players how to win.”
As a team, Wallace State was near the top of many statistical categories during the regular season. The Lions were second in league in team average (.343) and home runs (55) and first with 119 doubles as a group.
On the mound, Wallace State has pitched to a collective 3.14 ERA – good for second in the league and racked up 301 strikeouts.
“Our position guys have worked extremely hard this year and coach (Ben) Hawkins has done an excellent job with the pitchers. I’ve been impressed with our desire to finish games, and I’ll be surprised if that changes during the tournament. Hopefully, it will stay the same,” Putman said.
Wallace State has preached about finishing all season, especially after coming up short in the postseason last year.
The Lions swept Lawson State in a four-game series last month.
“We’ve been playing great baseball all season. We’ve only lost eight games and we believe we beat ourselves in those games. We’re playing good baseball right now,” Rivera said.
Added Putman: “Once you get into the state tournament, the old cliché about throwing the records out is true. You’ve got to be successful in all three phases of the game. It starts with the first game. We have a great chance to be playing in the end. We’re ready to see what we can do.”
For more information about Wallace State athletics, visit www.athletics.wallacestate.edu.
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