READY TO GOVERN: Wallace-Dothan hoping to make noise
Whatever it takes.
That’s been the way the Wallace Community College-Dothan (Alabama) baseball team has played all season, right through the Southeastern District tournament.
It took a close call at second base, then a sacrifice bunt and a throwing error in the bottom of the ninth inning for the Governors (42-19) to knock off Faulkner State 3-2 and qualify for its first national tournament berth.
“If we have to play small ball, we play small ball,” Dothan coach Mackey Sasser said. “If we need to hit doubles, that’s what we do. We’ve got some speed on the bases and we just play the game to our advantage.”
Sasser, a former catcher for the New York Mets, said he’ll use his pro experience to try to prepare his players for what they’ll experience in Grand Junction, even though he’s a novice JUCO World Series coach. He’s gotten plenty of input, though.
Chipola coach Jeff Johnson is Sasser’s uncle — Johnson’s wife is Sasser’s wife’s aunt — so they’ve been in contact since both teams qualified.
“We go way back,” Sasser said. “Adam Thomas from Chatt (Chattahoochee Valley) and Bobby Sprowl (Shelton State) called me, and I’ve been at this stage in pro ball. We’ll get there early and see everything, get familiar with it and do what we have to do.”
Sasser has a bunch of blue-collar, hard-working players, and at this point of the season, it’s about simply playing the game.
“I’ll try to get them relaxed,” Sasser said. “There’s certain ways you can do it. You just pat them on the butt this time of year instead of getting in their face. Just relax. I always feel by the first of April you have your identity. You are who you are. You can get hot with the bat, but I know what my team can do and can get them to where they need to be.”
Who the Governors are starts on the mound with Phillip Sieli, a sophomore right-hander who has struck out 83 batters in 83 2/3 innings. Freshman Jacinto Arredondo, another righty, has 85 Ks in 82 innings. As a staff, Dothan has a 410-179 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 3.51 team ERA.
Sasser isn’t sure how his rotation will be set for the World Series, but Sieli has been the Govs’ top guy all season.
“He’s our number-one guy going into everything, and Ethan Michaelis, who has pitched really well for us, and Jacinto (Arredondo) has been a good guy for us,” Sasser said. “Those will be our three main guys.”
But they’re not the only guys. John Mason, slated to be the No. 1 starter before the season, has pitched only 14 innings because of recurring blisters on his pitching hand. The blister issue has been resolved, and the Mississippi State signee is ready to go.
“We’ve finally got him back, so he’ll be making some appearances in the tournament,” Sasser said. “He’s our best guy; he’s a starter, but we’ll probably use him in relief.”
Tyler Halas was another guy slated for work out of the bullpen, but with some injuries in the infield, he’s become the Govs’ steady shortstop, throwing 12 innings as a closer, with four saves and a 2-0 record. He hasn’t given up an earned run and teams are hitting .167 against him.
“Tyler could be a starter for us or for anybody, but we had a couple of injuries in the infield and it’s kind of hard to take him off the field at shortstop. He hasn’t pitched as much as we’d like, but he’s a closer when we need him,” Sasser said.
Wallace-Dothan hits .300 as a team, more of a doubles-hitting team than pure power, but there is some pop in the bats.
Oliver Tejeda has eight home runs, tops on the club, with a team-high 44 RBI.
“We’re not a team that’s gonna go out and score a hundred runs,” Sasser said. “We’re going to go out and score what we need to, do what we have to do, and make plays.
“It can be anybody different. We’ve had some injuries to our big hitters and they’re not able to play, but some other guys have stepped up and done what they’ve needed to do. It’s made them better ballplayers instead of relying on those other guys.”
Sasser, who played Major League Baseball from 1987-95, is remembered as the terrific left-handed hitting catcher for the Mets, but who developed an issue throwing the ball back to the pitcher.
It stemmed from getting run over at the plate and spraining an ankle so badly that he had trouble getting up from his crouch. He tossed from the squat position and developed a mental block about a good throw, even through throwing out runners wasn’t a problem.
He retired in 1995 and two years later was asked to return to Dothan, where he played, as the coach. He’s also the school’s athletic director.
He figures his experience in pro baseball and playing on a big stage will help the Govs handle playing in front of big crowds for the first time.
“I don’t think anything will bother them. They’ve played for this and I know they’re going to come out and play hard,” Sasser said. “That’s all I’m worried about. I’ve done things in the playoffs at the Major League level; this is for them, not me.
“This is what they’re playing for, this is what they want to do. I have a feeling they’ll show up; they like to show out in front of people, that’s for sure.”