By Gary Lloyd
Predictions are tough to make.
Teams that shouldn’t lose, lose. Teams that aren’t favored to win, win.
One metaphor, perhaps a prediction, has come true for the No. 10 Hewitt-Trussville baseball team.
First-year head coach Jeff Mauldin said it in February. The Huskies had defeated Briarwood Christian 6-3 to claim the Jay D. Kynerd Memorial Tournament championship. In that tournament, Hewitt-Trussville fell behind Vestavia Hills 6-0 in the fifth inning, only to score five of its own in the fifth and sixth to win 10-6. In the championship, it scored five in the fifth to beat Briarwood 6-3.
The wins were the first deposits into the team’s memory bank, which includes fight, toughness, character and the remembrance of success. Mauldin said the team would be able to withdraw memories from that bank later in the season when it needs fight, toughness and the recollection of winning. Three months later, two wins away from a Class 6A state championship, that bank is full of memories.
“It has helped a lot,” said senior pitcher Kane Morrow. “Getting off to a good start in the beginning really built confidence. Everyone has really stepped in at different times and helped the team in any way possible. I’ve never been a part of a team that shows the will to keep fighting and never quit like this team shows. It also helps keep us calm during games, especially when a team jumps out early. The attitude in the dugout and in our players still stays the same whether it is in the first inning or seventh inning.”
It didn’t take long for the Hewitt-Trussville players to buy in to Mauldin’s coaching philosophy.
“We could sense that coach Mauldin believed in us from the first day he met with us,” said sophomore shortstop Carter Pharis. “He also challenged us daily to do all of the little things and we totally bought in.”
Mauldin’s unchanging quotes sound the same about an upcoming state championship bout with his former school, No. 5 Pelham, as they do about an out-of-classification doubleheader against Pinson Valley in early March.
He starts off talking about the offseason, which includes lots of weight training and conditioning. He then speaks of just playing the game, not worrying as much about the opponent in the opposite dugout. He mentions a “fighter’s attitude” in tough situations. He mentions adversity and how the team that handles it the best is the one who usually winds up with a “W” on the schedule. He compares baseball with the Miami Heat’s LeBron James shooting 30 percent from the floor and the Denver Broncos’ Peyton Manning completing 30 percent of his passes.
What’s the correlation?
In baseball, getting a hit in 30 percent of your at-bats makes you an All-Star and possibly gets you into the Hall of Fame. In basketball, shooting 30 percent means you’ve put up enough bricks to build a house. In football, a quarterback completing 30 percent of his passes means he should probably find a new career
What’s the point?
“It’s how you handle the failure,” Mauldin said. “There’s more failure in this sport than those sports.”
Mauldin looks to an April 2 home loss to Gardendale as a turning point in the team’s mindset. The Huskies were ranked No. 5 and fell 7-2 in the Class 6A, Area 12 matchup. Hewitt-Trussville managed just four hits, but the problem wasn’t so much on the field as it was in the dugout.
That game mattered for area standings. Mauldin sensed panic and tightness in the dugout when the team got down. Players were saying things not normal for them. The team responded later that week by beating Gardendale on its home field, 10-3 and 7-3, to claim the regular season area championship, its first in more than a decade. Mauldin said the team has referred to that loss a few times this postseason, to not repeat the panic, to stay calm in the face of adversity.
“Our big thing is, ‘Just play the game,’” Mauldin said. “You’re not playing your opponent, you’re playing the game. The game is hard enough.”
Since that April 2 home loss to Gardendale, Hewitt-Trussville is 14-3 overall, with a 10-2 mark at Phil English Field.
Credit the memory bank.
“We knew when (Mauldin) came here that changes were going to have to be made,” Morrow said. “We all had to make a commitment to this program by buying into everything that he does. And I believe we have all done that.”
Contact Gary Lloyd at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @GaryALloyd.