Spring Garden senior catcher Luke Welsh recalls hitting his first home run in the seventh grade. He connected on two more long balls a year later, so that became his thing in baseball.
“When I started realizing I could hit home runs and extra-base hits, that became one of my lower goals,” Welsh said. “Obviously the main goal was to win, but it was a personal goal to add more each year, to maybe have more deep hits, more home runs. The weight room played a big factor in that. The past two years I’ve worked out pretty hard and I got to where I had a little power.”
Welsh finished his senior year with a bang – quite literally. He batted .427 with 21 doubles, a pair of triples, 11 walks and 12 home runs in leading the Panthers to a 25-16 record and a state quarterfinal appearance, their first season in Class 2A.
The Alabama Sports Writers Association not only selected Welsh as a First-Team Catcher on its All-State Team, the organization also chose him as the Class 2A Hitter of the Year.
“He does have a natural home run swing,” outgoing Spring Garden baseball coach Tony Benefield said. “He’s a dead pull hitter, so when he connects it’s going to go a long way.”
Piedmont sophomore catcher Jack Hayes doesn’t have as many homers at Welsh, but he was equally effective for the Class 3A Bulldogs (34-7) last season.
Hayes had a .356 batting average with 11 doubles, three triples, two home runs, 21 walks, 15 hit by pitches and 46 RBIs, helping Piedmont claim a spot in the 3A state semifinals.
Like Welsh, Hayes earned a First-Team Catcher honor and was chosen as the Class 3A Hitter of the Year.
“If our team had to have someone that we said was our guy, Jack would definitely have been it this season,” notes Piedmont coach Matt Deerman. “He had three walk-off hits this season, one of which was in the third round of the playoffs. He almost shut down opposing teams’ running game. He threw out 54 percent of attempted base stealers. He’s been a starter for us since the seventh grade, and will be a highly sought after catcher for several colleges in the near future.”
In all, 10 area baseball players earned all-state recognition. The teams were released on Sunday.
Joining Welsh and Hayes on the ASWA All-State Baseball Teams is Spring Garden junior pitcher Landon Gowens (First Team), Piedmont senior first baseman Sean Smith (First-Team Infield), Piedmont junior shortstop/pitcher/outfielder Austin Estes (First-Team Utility), Piedmont junior third baseman Noah Reedy (Second-Team Infield), Sand Rock senior second baseman Logan Wood (Second-Team Infield), Cherokee County junior first baseman Walker Pruett (Second-Team Infield), Cherokee County sophomore Connor Wilson (Second-Team Utility), and Cedar Bluff third baseman/first baseman Corey Teague (Honorable Mention Utility).
Gowens went 11-3 with 102 strikeouts and a 2.13 ERA on the mound for the Panthers last season.
Smith batted .339 with 11 doubles, eight home runs, a triple, 17 hit by pitches, 12 walks, 33 runs and 47 RBIs.
Estes batted .364 with nine doubles, two triples, a home run, 27 stolen bases, 24 walks, 48 runs and 36 RBIs. He also went 8-0 on the mound with a pair of saves, 58 strikeouts and 1.11 ERA.
Reedy batted .426 with 12 doubles, two triples, two home runs, 16 walks, 39 runs and 51 RBIs.
Wood batted .378 with 11 doubles, 10 stolen bases, 17 runs and 31 RBIs for the Wildcats (13-8).
Pruett batted .385 with four doubles, a triple, 30 stolen bases, 31 runs and 22 RBIs for the Warriors (17-15).
Wilson batted .457 with nine doubles, five home runs, a triple, 17 walks, 19 runs and 32 RBIs.
Teague tallied a .514 batting average with six doubles, a home run, eight walks, eight runs scored and 15 RBIs.
The complete ASWA All-State Baseball Teams can be found on the WEIS Radio social media sites.
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