HANCEVILLE, ALA. -- Wallace State's baseball team opens the 2019 season today, featuring a plethora of new faces as coach Randy Putman enters his 30th season with the program.
Wallace State, which is coming off a 48-10 record and the Alabama Community College Conference North Division championship last season, has 23 freshman scattered across the roster in 2019 as the Lions host Columbia State in their season opener today at 2 p.m. at James C. Bailey Stadium.
"We have an exciting freshman class. I don't like making comparisons, but this year's team is going to be different in the sense we had a lot of sophomores with experience last season. This year's team is quite the opposite. We have just a handful of sophomores. That's the cycle in junior college baseball," said Putman, whose team was also the ACCC Tournament runner-up last season. "If we can keep our head above water early in the year, I think we'll progress into a good ball club. I know our guys will compete as hard as we've always competed at Wallace State."
Despite the youth, Wallace State does showcase sophomores who were significant pieces to last season's success.
Easton Kirk and Brady Sherrill return to the lineup after each earned All-ACCC/Region 22 recognition last season. Kirk, a Piedmont grad and Troy University commit, hit .364 with 10 homers and 51 RBIs. He added 16 doubles and scored 47 runs. Sherrill, a Haleyville native, hit .416 with five homers and 52 RBIs.
Kirk, Sherrill and fellow sophomore infielder Noah Fondren will look to anchor the lineup early in the season.
"Both Easton Kirk and Brady Sherrill had excellent freshman seasons. Noah Fondren is back as well. They didn't have to carry the load last season because they had so many sophomores surrounding them in the lineup. This year is different. We're looking to those three and our other sophomores to be leaders on and off the field," Putman said.
Wallace State's outfield will have an entire new look with Ty Hill (Saltillo, Miss.), Kevin Dowdell (Calera) and Brennan McCullough (Oxford) penciled in early. Dowdell was a Class 5A 2nd-team All-State selection at the outfield spot his senior season at Calera.
"These guys are excellent baseball players who just need college at bats under their belts," Putman said.
Complementing Kirk and Fondren in the infield should be Collin Rogers (Hazel Green) and Jack Haney (Cedartown, Ga.) up the middle and David Rutledge (Etowah) and Nate Lloyd (Oxford) platooning at first base. Rutledge was a 5A 2nd-team All-State selection at Etowah High.
Sophomore Garrett Brown highlights the Wallace State pitching staff. Brown, a Samford commit, was among the Lions' top pitchers last season, compiling an 8-2 record and a 3.18 ERA in 62 1/3 innings. He was second on the team with 72 strikeouts.
Sophomore Robert Coleman is expected to secure a rotation spot after an impressive fall season. Coleman, a Minor grad and West Georgia commit, appeared in 10 games for the Lions last season, finishing 2-0 with a 2.79 ERA in 19 1/3 innings. He averaged 6.98 strikeouts per nine innings.
Lefty Taylor Hayes, out of Piedmont, returns to the fold after finishing 4-1 with a 2.70 ERA in 40 innings pitched out of the bullpen as a freshman.
Putman mentioned freshman pitchers Jerry Dale Bowman, Dalton Hall and Houston Wright as those who should provide an early-season lift.
Bowman is a Class 7A All-State selection out of Smiths Station, Hall pitched at Mortimer Jordan and Wright at Hartselle.
"I'm excited about our pitching staff. We are counting on guys like Garrett Brown, Robert Coleman, Jerry Dale Bowman and Taylor Hayes to be leaders on the mound," Putman said. "Dalton Hall and Houston Wright have a chance to be very good college pitchers."
Versatility is the name of the game at all levels of baseball now, and Dowdell should also see significant time on the mound this season.
"Guys who are good athletes are capable of doing both and succeeding. We believe Kevin can be a huge weapon for us. When he plays the game right and under control, it comes easy to him," Putman said.
Freshman Garrett Kennedy, out of Westbrook Christian, is another versatile piece on the roster this season.
Rounding out the Wallace State pitchers are Britt Bowling (Decatur), Austin McKinney (Calera), J.C. Parker (Thompson), Daniel Waddill (Leroy, Class 2A 1st-team All-State), Clark Kinard (Winfield), Taylor Goodwin (Mortimer Jordan), Connor Burks (Hartselle) and Cal Taylor (Haleyville).
Rounding out the position players are Caden Higgins (Oxford), Caleb Lipsey (Cullman), Justin Owens (Smiths Station), Trevor Houston (Cleburne County), Drew Chilton (Benton, Ark.), Jackson Devaney (Oneonta, Class 4A 1st-team All-State), Braxton Dopson (White Plains, 2nd-team All-State) and Riley Wood (Hartselle).
As he enters his 30th season at Wallace State, Putman has already put together a NJCAA Hall of Fame career, compiling a 1,067-473 record, winning seven ACCC titles and making six NJCAA World Series appearances.
"I feel like this is my first year and still get as excited as I ever have. I love the game and respect it. I love the teaching aspect of it and believe in playing the game the right way," Putman said.
Former Wallace State pitcher Bret Marks, the 2012 ACCC Pitcher of the Year and former draft pick of the New York Yankees, begins his first season as Wallace State's assistant coach.
Wallace State's conference opener is March 7 at Calhoun.