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One for the history books

Straughn’s Zack Lunsford gets a hit during Saturday’s third game against Oak Grove in Bessemer. The Tigers will play in their first semifinal-round in school history this week. | Andrew Garner/Star-News

Straughn will make its first appearance in the semifinals of the Class 4A state playoffs this Friday, and Tigers head coach John Fussell said “motivation” will not be a problem.

“We’ve still got to play with emotion, and we’ve got to be focused while we do it,” Fussell said. “I don’t think motivation is going to be a problem.”

Straughn will face defending champions UMS-Wright in Mobile in its first final four in school history.

SHS and UMS-Wright’s path through the first three rounds of the playoffs are similar.

Top-ranked Straughn (31-9) is coming off a three-game third-round series victory over Oak Grove. SHS split with OGHS in the doubleheader last Friday, and won the third game 12-8 to get the series win. UMS-Wright (20-16) beat Bibb County in the third round, also in three games.

Straughn beat St. James in three games in the first round, and swept Headland in two games in the second round.

UMS-Wright went three games against W.S. Neal in the first round, and beat Saraland in two games during the second round.

“We’re excited to be back in the semifinals, and again at the same time, we know we’ve got a big challenge ahead of us,” UMS-Wright head baseball coach Brett Boutwell said. “We’ve heard a lot of great things about Straughn. I’ve kept up with them throughout the year because they were ranked No. 1 in the state.

“From us seeing them in the first round of the football playoffs, it’s kind of unique to see some of the same names of the football team that are the same guys you hear about start for their baseball team.”

At practice this week, Fussell said the team has been concentrating on its hitting.

“We worked on some things that I think will help us,” he said.

Fussell said he wouldn’t go into detail on what areas of hitting his team worked on this week, but added they did go back to the basics.

For UMS-Wright, taking away the “big innings” from its opponent is the big key to success, Boutwell said.

“We’ve got to continue to keep making the routine plays and stay away from big innings,” Boutwell said. “If you make mistakes, they’ll be able to capitalize on them. We’ve got to stay away from big innings.”

Even though this is all new territory for the team, Fussell said the team knows they’ll have to play to want it more.

“I don’t know how many times UMS has won it,” he said. “I know they’re the defending state champs. For years, they’ve been deep in the playoffs, and runner ups and actually won it.

“All of this is uncharted waters for us, but I will say one thing, sometimes when you never had something, it tends to make you want it more,” he said. “So, we’re just going to have to want it more than they do.”

Straughn and UMS-Wright will play in a doubleheader on Friday, where games have been scheduled for 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. A third game on Saturday at noon will be played, if necessary.

“They’re playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Fussell said. “They love our softball team — our softball team loves them. I think they realize how special it would be for us to be in Montgomery and them pulling for us, and us being up there pulling for them.”