Tigers look to build from turnaround season
By Michael Butler
When John Goodman returned to the position of head coach of the Tallassee High School baseball program last season, he was 15 years removed from the same spot he held for 16 years. It was the 25th anniversary of the Tigers' last state championship, the 1998 squad that Goodman coached.
The team was coming off of a 4-25 campaign in 2022 under Coach Kyle Hammonds.
Things turned around though in Goodman's first year back at the helm. The Tigers returned to playoffs for the first time since 2019 and recorded a first-round series win, the first since the 2018 season.
"Our goal was to get into the playoffs," said Goodman. "We won and that was great."
After beating Valley, Tallassee fell to St. Paul's in the second round finishing the season at 12-15.
"They showed us where we need to be. If we hadn't made the playoffs, we don't get to see that. The kids that we've got understand."
Goodman said that led to implementing new things in the off-season.
"Last year we ran. We put the miles in. We don't cut people. If you can make it through our off-season, we'll find a place on the team for you. Toward the end of the season, our strength level went down. When you evaluate the difference in us and St. Paul's, they lift every day. We reevaluated. We came in this year and hit the weights extremely hard. Our kids got bigger and stronger. That's the difference in what we're doing."
Tallassee is replacing its entire outfield. Cade Everson transferred to Elmore County. Mason Stewart and Jackson Rhodes graduated. The entire infield returns including senior Brady Mason, a Huntingdon signee.
"Brady is everything to us," Goodman noted. "Number one pitcher. He fills in at every infield position. If you looked up utility player in the dictionary, his name would pop up."
Last season, Mason led the team in innings pitched (44 2/3), strikeouts (41) and earned run average (3.13). He is also the returning leader in batting average (.356).
Ninth grader Brue Milner is back at catcher. Last year, Milner hit .317 with a homerun and 19 RBIs. Defensively, he threw out 13 runners with two more pickoffs.
Photos by Kyle Thornton
Goodman said he has 16 different pitchers who have been throwing bullpens with the varsity and junior varsity squads.
"We're trying to find those six or seven guys. We're not asking much. We just want them to pitch to contact. We're going to play good defense. Tallassee's built on pitching and defense. We work hard on that everyday. We've got potential to be pretty good with the bat."
The season begins on Feb. 15 against Beulah at Tallassee's Southside Field. It will be the first of nine games scheduled for the varsity over the first two weeks of the season.
"We kick off with Beulah at the house. We turn right around and play Reeltown. I think we've got four games the next week. Once we start playing, we play. It's not going to be much time to practice."
The Reeltown rivalry has come off the schedule in football and basketball but was retained in sports like wrestling, softball and baseball.
"I love playing them," said Goodman. "It was a great series last year, both here and there. The crowds were amazing. When I got the job back, we were having our first meeting. A hand goes up and one of the guys says, 'Is anybody going to come watch us play?' We were playing that Reeltown series. It was like a playoff atmosphere. I turned around and told them, 'They're here. Now show them what you got.'
"It's a great series. I like to see us all around get back into it. They've got a great team this year. I've got two former ball players coaching them (Rusty Smith, Britt Clayton). They ought to make a run at it this time. We're going to have to fight tooth and nail this year."
Tallassee also has rival Elmore County on the slate again as an area foe this season. Brewbaker Tech is the other area opponent. The Tigers also play longtime rivals Dadeville, Benjamin Russell and Wetumpka in 2024.
"We wanted to try to strengthen the schedule. A lot of these teams that we're playing have D-1 guys that we need to see."