The missing link: Central Alabama coach latest in family to reach nationals
Wynn Fletcher is the oldest of three baseball-coaching sons of a baseball coach.
And he finally has a team in the national tournament.
“My brother’s won a national championship there, my father was a college coach, he won a national championship, my other brother is a coach ... I’m the oldest and I coached both of them,” said Fletcher, the baseball coach at Central Alabama Community College. “It’s big for me.”
Fletcher’s brother, Nick, was an assistant on the Chipola (Fla.) College team that won the 2007 Alpine Bank Junior College World Series title. He’s now the head assistant baseball coach at Northwest Florida State College.
Their father, Tom, won a national championship in 1980 with what was then Alabama Christian College, which is now Faulkner University. Another brother, Lee Fletcher, is a high school baseball coach in Lubbock, Texas, and a former assistant coach at Abilene Christian University and played at Faulkner from 1995-2000 and was on the team that finished second in the National Christian College Athletic Association World Series.
Wynn Fletcher has been at Central Alabama the past six years, moving closer to home after being the head coach at Lipscomb University from 2000-2006.
Lipscomb had moved from NAIA to NCAA Division I status and is in Nashville, also home to Vanderbilt University’s powerhouse baseball program.
“I’ll tell you what, it’s not that fun a gig when you’re a Division I coach in town when Tim Corbin’s at Vanderbilt,” Fletcher said. “We made a jump. It was a good testing job, getting in there and see if you can take it there. We did all we could do, but having him in town and roll in the way he was, I couldn’t get anybody interested half the time.”
He and his wife started a family and felt the need to be closer to family, so he took the job at Central Alabama, and now can join the rest of the family with national tournament experience.
The Trojans got close last season, being ranked second in the nation but “we just fizzled out,” he said. “We hit the wall and fell apart at the end. We got to the state tournament and the plague hit us and we had seven guys going to the hospital. We hung in there and I think we were third in the tournament. It was disappointing after such a great year.”
A year later, with a predominantly freshman roster, the Trojans broke through and won the tough Alabama state tournament, which doubles as the Southeastern District tourney.
“We started this year with all freshman pitchers except one and he’s a down-the-liner guy,” Fletcher said. “The fall was brutal. We didn’t throw a strike in the fall. I was really worried about the spring, but we got to spring and set ourselves up in all these big tournaments and we were 0-6 to start. We were trying to salvage things.”
Bit by bit, the Trojans got better. Then, in a 9-8, 17-inning win over Shelton State on Feb. 24, it clicked.
And it clicked in a most unusual way.
“We had to use somebody (to pitch). Our left fielder, he was electric,” Fletcher said. “He goes to the mound and he’s throwing 90, 94. I said, ‘Man, we’ve found somebody here.’ ‘’
Paul Young became more than a left fielder that day, throwing 2 1/3 innings, allowing two hits and striking out four, getting the win.
“From that point on we kind of caught fire a little bit,” Fletcher said. “He became a bigger part of things. He’s a great outfielder, a great hitter, but he finally understood his future is probably on the mound. He’s put a lot into it. We just got better. I don’t know any other way to say it. We got better.”
Young still plays outfield and is hitting .338 for the Trojans. He’s 2-0 with a 2.33 ERA in eight appearances, four as a starter, four in relief.
The ace of the staff is John Michael Knighton, who is 8-1 with a 1.93 ERA. The only sophomore on the staff, William Parks, has been a leader by his attitude, Fletcher said.
“He doesn’t throw a lot but he’s one of the biggest contributors I have,” he said of Parks, who has made nine appearances, throwing 15 innings this season, picking up one win. “He’s a local kid; he’s happy to be here and he loves this program.”
As the pitchers were learning the ropes of junior college baseball, the hitters were taking care of things.
Central Alabama hits .308 as a team and puts up a ton of runs — entering the district tournament, the Trojans had outscored their opponents 338-97. Once in the playoffs, they didn’t slow down, outscoring their opponents 48-18 in four games.
They’re on a 12-game winning streak entering JUCO, and Fletcher makes no bones about why they’re here.
“The reason we’re here, the one reason, and it’s not my pitchers, even with Paul and John Michael, it’s B.J. Martin.
“He’s a big kid, he’s beautiful. This kid has so much energy, it’s so positive. You’ll see him after every out, every pitch, he’s between the mound and third, everybody knows where they have to be.”
Martin, a third baseman who also plays some shortstop, hits .372, has scored 42 runs and driven in 38.
“He’s so tough, but they feed off him,” Fletcher said. “If I took him off the field we’d be done. He’s gonna be a fun kid to watch.
“B.J. and Alex Lee and Darius Reese, our center fielder, he’s an electric kid. They feed off each other.
“It’s been so much fun. I’ve been a head college coach for 20 years, I’m 43 years old and I got lucky. I got a head coaching job early in my career, and this is by far the most fun I’ve ever had.”