Red hot Red Raiders: Confident Decatur ready for pivotal area series

Mar. 19—Walking off the field on May 5, 2017, Decatur coaches, players and fans couldn't have predicted what the future would hold for Decatur baseball.

That day was a tough one for the Red Raiders. In what was a matchup between the No. 1 and No. 3 teams in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs, Cullman bested Decatur on its way to the 6A state finals.

As heartbreaking as that was, what came next was even harder.

Decatur had to say goodbye to Alabama Mr. Baseball and Gatorade Player of the Year and future Cleveland Guardian Tanner Burns as well as several other seniors that helped the Red Raiders win 62 games in two seasons. Decatur has yet to have a winning season since.

Seven years later, though, it seems the tide is finally turning. So far this season, Decatur is 12-4.

"It's pretty cool when you think about how good Tanner and those guys were," said Decatur's Trey Greenwell, who's batting .405 this season. "Now it finally feels like we're carrying that legacy on."

The first few weeks of the season were up and down as Decatur started 3-3. However, since the start of March, it's been a different story. The Red Raiders are 9-1 this month.

Simply put, Decatur is red hot right now.

"I think the biggest change we've seen is the confidence that our guys are playing with right now," said Decatur head coach Jason Russell. "We've won some close games, some extra inning games against some good teams and now our guys are realizing that we can win. That's 90% of the game."

That 9-1 record in March includes a 4-1 mark in the Gulf Shores tournament last week which featured 30 teams from across the country. Decatur's lone loss in that span was to undefeated Lipscomb Academy out of Nashville by two runs in the semifinals of the tournament.

In three of its four wins at the tournament, Decatur won by a single run, proving it has what it takes to pull out wins in tight games against strong teams.

"I think that tournament was big for us. It proved to us that we can play with anybody," said Decatur senior Bradin Dupper, who's batting .529 so far this year.

"We also played a lot more loose and just had fun," added Greenwell. "I think that played a big part in us pulling out so many close wins."

As hot as they may be right now, Decatur's players know the road is about to get a lot tougher. Area play starts this week against Cullman.

After reaching the Class 6A semifinals a season ago, Cullman isn't having a typical Cullman season. The Bearcats started the season on an eight-game losing streak and are currently 4-11.

Still, Decatur knows not to underestimate one of Alabama's top baseball programs.

"At the end of the day they're still Cullman. They're a well-coached team and they're going to be tough to beat," Dupper said. "But we know we can win, which means we're going to go out there and play hard baseball like we have all month."

To get to the playoffs, Decatur has to be one of the top two teams in Class 6A, Area 14, which it shares with Cullman, Hartselle and Muscle Shoals. A series win over Cullman won't guarantee a playoff spot, nor will a loss eliminate Decatur from contention. Still, for the Red Raiders to finally get back to the playoffs, this week's series feels like a must win.

"We want to go to the playoffs. It's something we haven't done since 2017," Greenwell said. "If we want to get there, it all starts (Tuesday)."

Since 2016, Decatur has just one win against the Bearcats, which came in 2019. A win may not come easy, but it would be a major milestone for the program.

"(Beating Cullman) would be huge for us," Russell said. "The kids said it: Cullman is always going to be good. It would really help our program to get a win over Cullman and give us a boost against Hartselle and Muscle Shoals later in the year."

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