The Yellow Jackets just clinched their first state title in baseball and first in any sport as a Class 6A school on May 19. They should have an interesting draft day come Monday.
In between, the program can soak in the accomplishments of alums Saxon Butler and Judd Edwards, who just helped mid-major college programs win conference titles and reach this week’s NCAA regionals.
Meanwhile, the alums delight in the success of Oxford’s program, which has made the 6A finals twice in four years.
“I have taken pride in that,” Butler said. “I talked to Coach (Wes) Brooks after they won the state championship a couple of weeks ago, and the first thing he said to me was that the turning point for that baseball team was my senior year.
“We had four or five seniors, and he said the turning point was that year, when we came out of the gate and beat Spain Park a couple of times and went to Hoover and started trying to beat Hoover there, and he knew then that Oxford was going to have some great years ahead of them.”
Butler and Edwards have helped to engineer more turning points since they moved on.
Butler, Samford’s starting first baseman since arriving from Pensacola Junior College two years ago, is hitting .350 this season with 14 home runs and 60 RBIs.
This season, he was named Southern Conference player of the week three times and was among Collegiate Baseball’s Louisville Slugger National Players of the Week on April 30.
Samford (39-21) will make its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament starting Friday at 11 a.m. against SEC Tournament champion Mississippi State.
Edwards, a star shortstop and pitcher for the Oxford team that made the 2009 state finals, is a junior and Louisiana-Monroe’s starting third baseman. He bats .293 with four home runs and 27 RBIs this season.
He made the All-Sun Belt Tournament team, helping ULM (31-28) win its first Sun Belt title and secure its first NCAA tourney berth since 2000. The Warhawks open play in the Baton Rouge Regional against LSU Friday at 7 p.m.
“It’s a great honor to be able to get to the NCAA Tournament, with all of the good teams we’ve played against,” he said. “We feel like we’ve played pretty good baseball all year and got hot right there at the right time.
“It’s nice to be able to go down to Baton Rouge and play against some good teams and, hopefully, win some ballgames.”
Both players have played major roles in their teams’ breakthroughs.
Samford coach Casey Dunn liked Butler at Oxford, but the Bulldogs were stocked with hitters on the corners then and wasn’t looking to sign one. Butler went the junior college route and starred at Pensacola, earning first-team All-Panhandle Conference.
“It was a pretty easy decision to go down there and get him after that,” Dunn said.
Dunn was the first to offer Butler out of junior college, and Butler made an immediate impact. His 61 RBIs as a junior set a school record.
Teammate Brandon Miller drove in 63 runs this year, but Butler has the school’s second-and third-highest RBI totals.
“Me and him were both brought here to be RBI guys, so for two years now it’s been a friendly competition between me and him,” Butler said.
Butler has had big games against Samford’s biggest competition. He went 2-for-4 with two RBIs in the Bulldogs’ victory over Florida on May 15 then went 5-for-12 with five RBIs over a three-game series at Oklahoma.
“If you look at it now, I think he’s middle of the order for any SEC team out there,” said Dunn, who starred as a catcher for Auburn’s last College World Series team in 1997. “We’ve played Florida, who is the number one overall seed, and there’s no question he’d hit in the middle of their order.
“He is that level player, no question about it.”
Dunn said Butler will be a key to Samford’s chances in Tallahassee this weekend.
“Our guys feed off of him,” he said. “He’s an extremely confident guy, and I don’t know that we’ve faced a guy all year that he doesn’t feel like he’s going to go up there and get three hits against.”
Edwards signed with ULM out of Oxford, where he hit .415 while leading the Yellow Jackets to a state-runner-up finish in 2009.
He made the Ping!Baseball Freshman All-America team after hitting .333 in 2010 and started 107 games over his sophomore and junior seasons.
He came up big in the Sun Belt tourney, going 6-for-13 over three games. He went 4-for-6 with three runs and an RBI in a 9-7 victory over Florida Atlantic and doubled and scored a run in the final against Arkansas State.
“It was a great honor to be able to do that,” he said. “There are a lot of good players in our conference and a lot of guys that had really good tournaments.”
Edwards said he followed every game of Oxford’s recently completed season and pulled for former teammates like Tucker Simpson and Mathew Goodson, who starred as freshmen on that 2009 team then won a state title as seniors.
“Seeing how excited they were, I couldn’t be happier for Oxford,” he said. “That program deserves it. They worked hard to get there.”
Edwards and Butler have done plenty to get their new teams there, as well.
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.