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Alexandria celebrates after Bray Goode’s single plus an error clears loaded bases for four runs to give the Valley Cubs a 6-3 lead in the sixth inning of Tuesday’s Game 2 of the Class 5A title series.
Alexandria celebrates after Bray Goode’s single plus an error clears loaded bases for four runs to give the Valley Cubs a 6-3 lead in the sixth inning of Tuesday’s Game 2 of the Class 5A title series.

Jacksonville, AL – Thinking of ailing father, Welch goes from ejected to tears of joy while leading alma mater Alexandria to its first state baseball championship. (Includes photo gallery and three videos)

By Joe Medley

The brew of emotions spilled out of Zac Welch like multicolored water, a refracted swirl of pride, frustration, joy and deep concern.

The second-year head coach’s alma mater just completed its first state baseball title, beating Mobile Christian 8-4 in Tuesday’s Game 2 of their Class 5A title series on Jacksonville State University’s Rudy Abbott Field without him.

Thanks to a third-inning ejection, he coached all but the final four innings of the Valley Cubs’ adversity-packed season and title run.

Never mind the Welch-shaped hole in the dugout after that ejection. Ever-present concern over his hospitalized father kept his heart beating for quite probably the one Alexandria that didn’t jam into Jim Case Stadium for Monday’s and Tuesday’s title-series games.

Welch’s father couldn’t come to the stadium he built, which bears his name, for the semifinal series against Springville. He couldn’t go to the quarterfinal series at Sardis.

Then Welch found himself seated between Bray Goode, tournament most valuable player Andrew Allen and Tripp Patterson. As Welch recounted all that just the players seated with him had gone through, he could no longer contain his emotions.

It all spilled out before a room full of reporters.

Alexandria celebrates after Bray Goode’s single plus an error clears loaded bases for four runs to give the Valley Cubs a 6-3 lead in the sixth inning of Tuesday’s Game 2 of the Class 5A title series.
Alexandria celebrates after Bray Goode’s single plus an error clears loaded bases for four runs to give the Valley Cubs a 6-3 lead in the sixth inning of Tuesday’s Game 2 of the Class 5A title series.

“I would like to points out the level of perseverance this team has gone through this year,” he said. “It has been a struggle from very early on.”

He patted Goode on the back.

“Tendinitis in his elbow,” Welch said, then patted Allen. “Torn meniscus.”

Welch couldn’t reach Patterson, so he pointed.

“Three collapsed lungs in October,” Welch said.

Welch’s voice started to break.

“You go down our roster, and it’s full of people who have a story,” Welch said. “The fact that we could figure out how to get it done in the end? Man. It sure does mean a lot to me.”

Welch just might have the most wrenching story of all. His father, Kevin “Byrd” Welch, underwent open-heart surgery ahead of Alexandria’s quarterfinal series at Sardis, and complications have kept him hospitalized well beyond what was expected.

“It’s just infected. It’s in the bones,” Welch said. “I don’t know. I’m going in the morning. I don’t know how he is.

“He was supposed to get out the day after the surgery, against Sardis. He’s still there. I don’t know. I’m worried about him.”

Welch planned to call his father after completing postgame interviews.

“He’s alert, but it’s just a bad situation,” he said. “They just keep having to take more and more. Each surgery they go in, they take more bone out, and that’s weakening the bone, and they’re worried about the infection getting into the blood stream.”

Against that backdrop, Welch has steered a team with 15 seniors, most having played together since youth league, to dream and destiny. They wore the same colors he wore in high school, so it’s personal for the coach who calls himself an Alexandria “lifer.”

And what a kick in the head, that Welch didn’t get the finish the triumphant clinching game.

Welch declined to comment on his third-inning ejection. It came after Mobile Christian’s Gavin Wienshenker stole home to put the Leopards up 3-1 with two outs and a 1-2 count.

It’s unclear what Welch came out to argue. Mobile Christian coach Jason Smith speculated a dispute over whether the pitch should’ve been a called third strike. Perhaps Welch thought batter Aiden Gaston interfered with catcher Aiden Brunner.

After a brief conversation, home-plate umpire Steven Downs raised his right arm and twirled his hand. Welch was ejected.

“I think our team really responded after the fact,” Welch said. “It was tough for me not to be out there with them. I’ve always said I want to coach them the way that they can play the same, whether I’m there or not.

“I don’t take many sick days, but if I did, I would expect the same level of intensity and enthusiasm in practice and in the games. From what I could tell, we rose to the occasion.”

Brunner was hit by a pitch with bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth to bring Alexandria within 3-2, but Goode provided the big blow in the sixth.

The pitcher who won the only Game 3 Alexandria faced in these playoffs, at Sardis, hit a bases-loaded single that would’ve provided the tying and go-ahead runs on its own. An error in center field make it a four-run party and a 6-3 lead for Alexandria.

“I really think that after that ejection, the team really came together and knew that this is the game to win,” Goode said. “We were able to do it.”

After Mobile Christian scored to pull within 6-4 in the bottom of the sixth, the Valley Cubs added two runs in the top of the seventh … one on Samuel Henegar’s RBI double to left-center field and the other on Evan Snow’s RBI single.

Wienshenker doubled for Mobile Christian’s lone runner in the bottom of the seventh, but Patterson induced a P.J. Brown pop fly to right fielder Ian Cartwright to end it.

Alexandria players rushed the field and dog piled just in front of second base.

“A lot of people have worked a really long time for this moment,” Welch said. “… This was a big accomplishment for everybody from Alexandria. It starts with this team, the guys that put in the work, but the amount of people who have felt this championship is very widespread.”

Photo gallery by Joe Medley

Alexandria fans line up to get into Tuesday’s Game 2 of the Class 5A title series at Rudy Abbott FIeld.
Alexandria’s Aiden Brunner singles against Mobile Christian during Tuesday’s Game 2 of the Class 5A title series on Rudy Abbott Field.
Alexandria’s Ian Cartwright takes a cut against Mobile Christian during Tuesday’s Game 2 of the Class 5A title series at Rudy Abbott Field.
Alexandria pitcher Tripp Patterson works during Tuesday’s Game 2 of the Class 5A title series on Rudy Abbott Field.
Alexandria’s Nic Thompson takes third base on a sacrifice fly against Mobile Christian on Tuesday’s Game 2 of the Class 5A title series on Rudy Abbott Field.
Alexandria’s Aiden Brunner watches the flight of his RBI triple against Mobile Christian in Tuesday’s Game 2 of their Class 5A title series on Rudy Abbott Field.
Mobile Christian’s Gavin Wienshenker slides attempting to steal home as Alexandria catcher Aiden Brunner looks to make the tag in the third inning of Tuesday’s Game 2 of the Class 5A title series on Rudy Abbott Field.
Mobile Christian’s Gavin Wienshenker is ruled safe stealing home as Alexandria catcher Aiden Brunner extends during the third inning of Tuesday’s Game 2 of their Class 5A title series on Rudy Abbott Field.
Alexandria coach Zac Welch argues after being ejected following Mobile Christian’s Gavin Wienshenker’s successful attempt at home plate in the third inning of Tuesday’s Game 2 of their Class 5A title series on Rudy Abbott Field.
Alexandria’s Bray Goode (16) and Ian Cartwright celebrate after Goode scored a run in the fifth inning of Tuesday’s Game 2 of the Class 5A title series on Rudy Abbott Field.
Alexandria celebrates after Bray Goode’s single plus an error clears loaded bases for four runs to give the Valley Cubs a 6-3 lead in the sixth inning of Tuesday’s Game 2 of the Class 5A title series.
Alexandria’s Bray Goode prays in the dugout as the Valley Cubs bat in the top of the seventh inning of Tuesday’s Game 2 of the Class 5A title series on Rudy Abbott Field.
Alexandria’s Ryan Brown gets to dunk on the Nerf goal after scoring in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s Game 2 of the Class 5A title series on Rudy Abbott Field.
Alexandria dog piles after winning its first state baseball title Tuesday on Rudy Abbott Field.
Alexandria pitcher Andrew Allen, most valuable player of the 2024 Class 5A title series.
Alexandria’s Zac Welch, a state champion in his second year as the Valley Cubs’ head coach.
Alexandria players claim their ‘Blue Map’ after clinching the 2024 Class 5A state title Tuesday.

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