Walker-Cullman meet with state semifinals on the line
by Johnathan Bentley
May 02, 2014 | 1392 views | 0 0 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Walker coach Patrick Ware talks with Brooks Wade, center, and Bailey Tidwell (8) during Game 3 against Mortimer Jordan in their second-round playoff series last week. Walker plays Cullman in the third round today. Photo by Johnathan Bentley
Walker coach Patrick Ware talks with Brooks Wade, center, and Bailey Tidwell (8) during Game 3 against Mortimer Jordan in their second-round playoff series last week. Walker plays Cullman in the third round today. Photo by Johnathan Bentley
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The dimensions are the same at Valley Park.

It’s still 315 feet down the lines and 390 feet to straight-away center field.

Walker’s home dugout is down the third base line as it’s always been.

That said, there is something different, an extra bit of excitement in the air, as the Vikings prepare for the third-round  of the state baseball playoffs  — Cullman is coming to town.

The teams will battle in a best-of-three series for a right to get to the Class 5A state semifinals. The first game starts at 5 p.m. today.

It’s the first meeting on the baseball field between the Bearcats and Vikings since the 2011 season. There isn’t a player on the Vikings’ team that’s ever gone against Cullman on the baseball field.

“There is no bad blood, but it’s a heated rivalry,” Walker senior first baseman Stone Stephenson said.

Today’s series is the first meeting between the schools since a post-game brawl between coaches marred the Cullman-Walker football game in August. No players were involved in the altercation that resulted in a postseason ban for the Vikings.

“We aren’t going to get caught up in the hype that the outside world is making out of it,” senior Chris Alexander said. “They are making a big deal about it, but we’ve never got in a fight and our coach and their coach are good friends, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

“Everybody is telling us they hope that we win. There’s been a lot of talk on social media. They are getting ready for the game. It’s a great feeling. These two schools have really good programs. It’s always been back and forth,” Alexander continued. “Playing them in the third round of the playoffs is as big as it gets.”

The teams last met in the playoffs in the second round in 2010 with the Vikings winning the series with a 3-2, Game 3 victory.

This year’s Cullman team has been ranked either No. 3 or No. 2 all season long. In the playoffs, the Bearcats have outscored Athens and Hartselle 39-12.

Since March 11, Cullman is 30-3 with only one loss coming to a state team (Southside-Gadsden).

“They’ve got a great ball team. We are just average,” Walker coach Pat Ware said. “We are hoping that we can stay with them and compete with them. Who knows, if we keep it competitive and keep it close to the end, we might have a chance.”

Walker (23-19) had a turn around of its own this season.

After starting 1-9, the Vikings turned the corner during the Spring Break Tournament at Mountain Brook.

“What sort of happened was that during the middle of spring break we started eliminating mistakes. When you eliminate mistakes, you give yourselves a chance to win. That was the biggest turning point. In the second half of the season, we eliminated mistakes and made the plays. We did what we needed to with guys in scoring position,” Ware said.

The Vikings took second in area play to Mortimer Jordan, but they got even with the Blue Devils last week, taking their second-round series with a convincing 14-4, Game 3 win at Mortimer Jordan.

Ware said the Vikings have relied on Stephenson and junior catcher Logan Nix for leadership this season.

“Stone Stephenson is sort of the backbone of what we do. He epitomizes what we try to instill in our players as far as hard work and discipline. He gets the most out of his abilities. Logan has been huge for us. He’s started since the eighth grade. He’s basically the third coach out there. Everything runs through him. He’s the glue that keeps us together,” Ware said.

Seniors on the squad are: Stephenson, Alexander, Brooks Wade, Chandler Crump, Maverick Bahrik and Bailey Royster.

Cullman is loaded with eight seniors, 10 juniors and has a freshman (Owen Lovell) who has 13 home runs this season.

What will it take to beat Cullman?

“They’ve got a lot of power. They’ve got 30-something wins. They can swing it,” Stephenson said of the Bearcats. “We are going to have to hit our spots pitching-wise. We’ve got to defend well and swing it better than they do.”

Walker may not be the favorite against the Bearcats, but Ware isn’t deterred.

“Any team at this point has a chance to win. You don’t have to be the best team talent-wise, you just have to be the best team that day,” Ware said.