By Gene Stanley/Sports Correspondent
There are some streaks that defy explanation.
In the sporting world, you have streaks like Cal Ripken playing in 2,632 games in a row. Then there’s Alabama and Auburn combining to win four consecutive national championships.
On a more local note, Westbrook Christian High’s baseball team has now won 52 area games in a row.
“I was totally unaware of anything of this sort until some folks called it to my attention last week,” Warriors coach Matt Kennedy said. “What this streak mainly says is that we’ve had some tremendous athletes who buy into the program. Every coach has his way of doing things and when the kids buy into it and follow it, it makes a huge difference.”
The streak started in the middle of the 2006 season, after the Warriors had lost three of four. They finished as area runners-up that season.
The next season, Westbrook again finished as runners-up, losing three of their first four area games. However, the fifth area game that year – at Cleveland – started this streak.
Trey Vice, who went on to play at UAB, pitched that game.
“I honestly don’t remember anything about that game,” Vice said. “I do know it was on the road, because I was a junior and was set up to play every road area game. But otherwise, it was just another game, without anything to make it exceptional, except it was a win and it started this streak.”
There seems to be one definable asset to most of the Warriors’ diamond glory – Kennedy.
Kennedy coached the team from 1998-2000. In ‘99, Westbrook finished as state runners-up. After the ‘01 season, Kennedy hung up his varsity cleats but continued to coach at Rainbow Middle School.
“That move gave me a chance to teach closer to home,” Kennedy said. “I had been teaching at Hokes Bluff and coaching the Warriors. Then I got to teach at Rainbow Middle and coach there. My children were young at the time, and not being a varsity coach gave me a lot more time to spend with them. Now they’re getting older and they’re here with me.”
Mike Lamb, who also coached Gaston High baseball team for several years, coached in that interim amount of time. Westbrook continued to produce quality teams, reaching the second and third round of the state playoffs for a couple of years.
“(Lamb) does some things differently than I do,” Kennedy said. “But he had really laid a good foundation for winning when I came back. I hope I had started a good foundation my first time around, and it’s all just added up to having good teams.”
In ‘06, Kennedy returned to the Warriors program. He has led the Warrior Nine to at least the second round every single season, including semifinal appearances in ‘09 and ‘11 and with quarterfinal berths in ‘10 and ‘12.
“We never thought about area games any differently than other games,” said Barr Miller, a pitcher/first baseman who graduated last year. “The only time we really concentrated on one game or one series was when a playoff berth was on the line.
“With coach Kennedy, you try to win every game, whether or not it has any bearing on the playoffs.”
Vice noted that victories aren’t the only goals on a Kennedy-coached team.
“Of course we wanted to win, but we also wanted to win with class,” Vice said. “I consider it a true honor to have played for [Kennedy]. I’ve spent time at his home and with his kids. His whole family is just great. They’re great people to be around.”
While not dropping his praise of Kennedy, Barr also said that the assistant coaches are top notch.
Kennedy’s staff includes pitching coach Bob Cartrett, Ryan Carter and first base coach Brandon Byars – three names that have positive connotations in Etowah County.
“The assistants do a great job,” Barr said. “They make sure you are ready and that you know what is happening.”
During the streak, Sand Rock has suffered 11 (12 if they lose today) losses to the Warriors. West End is second on the hit list, with 10 losses. Ohatchee has been victimized eight times and Pleasant Valley six.
Geraldine, Victory Christian and Fultondale all lost four times to Westbrook, with Cleveland and Gaston absorbing two losses each.
In addition to Vice, the Warriors have had two other players move to the next level and play collegiate baseball since 2006.
Michael Duncan (‘06) attended Faulkner University, and Jacob Mayfield (‘11) currently attends Birmingham-Southern.
Several players have been named All-State, including Vice (‘06, ‘07), Mayfield (‘09, ‘10, ‘11), Chase Saunders (‘09, ‘10, ‘11), Barr Miller (‘11) and John Mayfield (‘12).
“I’ve been truly blessed to have a lot of good, quality ballplayers,” Kennedy added.
Hugh Miller contributed to this story