“Fastball, curveball, fastball,” the ex-Alexandria star recalled this week.
Two fastballs and a curveball after Deshler drove 150 miles to right an umpiring wrong, the Tigers were on the way back to Tuscumbia.
So ended what was arguably the most memorable chapter in the long, multi-sport playoff history between Alexandria and Deshler.
A new chapter opens with today’s first game of a best-of-three Class 4A semifinal series on Alexandria’s Kevin “Byrd” Field. First pitch of today’s doubleheader is 4:30 p.m.
The Valley Cubs (20-16) and Tigers (33-7) would play an “if” game Saturday at 1 p.m.
The winner will play the UMS Wright-Alabama Christian winner next week in Montgomery.
It seems only appropriate that Alexandria and Deshler would play for such stakes. Each has a history of playoff runs, especially in football and baseball. They often clash along the way.
In recent football history, Deshler eliminated Alexandria in 2000, 2003, 2004 and 2005. The Valley Cubs got the best of it in 1987 and 1997.
In recent baseball, Alexandria beat Deshler in 1992, 1999, 2000 and 2005. Deshler got the best of it in 1991, 1993, 2004 and 2006, the most recent time the two teams met.
Alexandria baseball coach Andy Shaw recalls them all. He’s in his 19th year on the job after one year as an assistant.
“They’re good in everything,” said Shaw, also an assistant in football. “They’re athletic in all sports. It’s a well-respected program and a class bunch of kids like Alexandria is.
“It usually makes for a pretty good series and pretty good games, in whatever we play.”
But any time Deshler and Alexandria match up, conversation invariably turns to the best-of-three 1999 baseball series that started on a Friday and ended the following Monday.
Deshler won the opener 5-4, but Alexandria won the next two 15-9 and 5-4. It just took an Alabama High School Athletic Association ruling and Monday’s replay of the final out to close the series.
The controversy began when then-Deshler coach Phil Bates reinserted Brian James to bat in the seventh inning, and James followed Barry Byrd’s infield single with a double.
James was Deshler’s starting pitcher, but Bates removed him in the sixth inning.
Shaw argued that James did not report back into the game. A Walker County umpiring crew agreed and called him out to end the game.
Bates protested, and the AHSAA ruled Monday morning that James did not have to report, that it’s only a courtesy asked of coaches when reinserting a player.
The ruling meant that Deshler would have to make the 300-mile round trip with the possibility of facing only one pitch.
“I’m just happy for the kids,” Bates told The Star then. “Win or lose, I want the kids to decide. It shouldn’t be an umpire’s misinterpretation of the rules. You shouldn’t end kids’ careers, kids’ seasons, on that.”
The ruling also meant that Welch would face Josh Thompson with two outs, runners on second and third bases and a one-run lead.
Welch got the news at school that day.
“We were thinking it was over, thinking that we had won and celebrating and moving on to the next week,” he said. “Then, having to revert back to it was different, something I’ve never experienced before.
“Then, having to sit around that whole day at school … is kind of a lot to weigh on you all day long.”
There would be no build up to the finish. Welch had to be on with the first pitch.
While Deshler made the drive, Alexandria practiced, trying to simulate something approaching a regular game.
“That way, the game speed was the speed that we were running,” Welch said. “We didn’t have to have an inning to adjust.”
Welch was aggressive, and Thompson took a fastball strike on the first pitch.
Thompson got way ahead of Welch’s second-pitch curveball and fouled it off the school building, down the third-base line.
“I felt pretty good about that,” Welch said. “Then I went fastball and struck him out.”
That minute and 20 seconds of baseball touched off quite a celebration in The Valley. Alexandria lost to Jake Peavey-led St. Paul’s in the championship series, but controversy in the semifinal series seemed to take the Alexandria-Deshler rivalry to a new level of intensity.
Welch, now an assistant coach for Alexandria, knows the history all too well. He experienced two series victories over Deshler in baseball, but the Tigers ended his senior football season.
He went on to play baseball at Alabama but came back home to see little brother, Jake, do battle with Deshler.
The mere mention of Deshler is motivation enough.
“To our group of Alexandria kids, absolutely,” Zac Welch said. “You go ask somebody that graduated from here five years ago, and Deshler is all you have to say.”
As for the current group of Alexandria and Deshler players, not so much. The last time the two teams played, senior shortstop and multi-sport star Hunter Kelley was an eighth-grader.
But Kelley gets what it means to play a program like Deshler’s.
“It’s just like somebody else from another school playing Alexandria,” he said. “It’s a big game. It’s real important. Everybody’s tense about it. Everybody’s ready to play.
“Growing up in Alexandria, all you heard about was Alexandria and Deshler, Deshler and Alexandria.
“We’re ready to play. We think it’s something to be able to put our name with the rest of the others in the past for Alexandria and be able to play Deshler.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org.