Shelton State overcomes early obstacles to make it to JUCO
At one point, Bobby Sprowl thought he could have one of the best teams in Shelton State (Ala.) Community College history.
Before the season started, two pitchers left for Southeastern Conference schools and one signed a pro contract with the Minnesota Twins. Sprowl kicked a few more off the team for off-field issues.
Although it was disappointing to lose those players, Sprowl was confident his team would still be good.
“It’s been one of those years, a lot of things happened and nothing seems to faze them,” Sprowl said. “We thought it was going to be one of the best teams ever.”
Shelton State (38-21) showed Sprowl it was going to be a good team anyway after its season-opening trip to Florida.
“When we came back from Florida, I thought we were going to be pretty good,” Sprowl said. “We matched up pretty well with everybody and didn’t get rattled. The biggest difference this year is we play 27 outs. We’re showing we can come back.”
The Buccaneers tied for first place in the Region 22 Northern Division, but they were dealt another blow when former teammate Jim Bob Hutchinson was killed in a car accident a few days before the Region 22/Southeastern District tournament.
“We were playing Monday and my phone kept ringing off the hook,” Sprowl said. “I saw the phone number and thought I better answer it. He was killed in a head-on collision.
“You go to the funeral home and wonder what else is going to happen to this team. Of all the years I’ve coached, this one of the most enjoyable, but also tough. Anything that can happen seems to happen.”
The team responded by putting Hutchinson’s initials on their caps and winning the Southeastern District to qualify for their fourth JUCO World Series and first since 2009.
The sophomores led the way.
“We didn’t play real good in the state tournament last year.” Sprowl said. “I rode our sophomores pretty hard about not getting it done in a big tournament. They overcame me getting on them to get it done every day.”
Despite losing three good pitchers before the season started, Sprowl had plenty of good arms left.
Alex Milazzo returned after shoulder surgery and has been nearly unhittable. The sophomore is 6-0 with a 0.96 ERA and a .175 batting average against him. Alex Aultman (3-3, 4.37 ERA) leads the team in innings pitched (59.2) and reliever Steven Glasglow (4-1, 2.27 ERA) leads the team in strikeouts with 38 in 47 innings.
Sprowl’s son, Trevor Sprowl, has started seven games on the mound, but can pitch in relief.
Closer Terrance Dedrick is 4-0 with a 2.36 ERA and four saves. Dedrick starts in right field and hits in the three hole. He has signed with Auburn.
“We got four guys on most teams we’ve had would be our No. 2 starter, but they have stuff that can be a No. 1,” said Sprowl, a former pitcher with the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros. “They are all capable of shutting guys down, but they always keep us in the game.”
The Bucs have a .950 fielding percentage and have an offense capable of scoring runs.
“It’s an athletic team; scrappy,” Sprowl said. “We don’t have a lot of power hitters, but a lot gap hitters.”
They are led by shortstop Lance Wilson, who has signed with the University of Mississippi.
Leadoff batter Jake Vickerson is hitting .366 with a .456 on-base average. Wilson and Dedrick and J.C. Wilhite hit behind him. Wilhite is hitting .385 with 42 RBI.
With all the team’s been through, Sprowl isn’t too concerned with how the team will deal with the crowds and atmosphere at the JUCO World Series.
“The first year you go out there, you don’t know what to expect,” Sprowl said. “After that you know what to expect. You can talk them through a lot of stuff.
“The biggest adjustment is playing in front of all those people. It’s not so much the position players, but the pitchers. That’s the part we’ll talk about more than anything. Play like you have been.”