‘A different dynamic’ for 2022 ALWS champions
After becoming just the second American Legion World Series champion from Alabama last August, Troy Post 70 head coach Ross Hixon knows his team will be viewed differently entering this season.
And he says his team is embracing that change.
“For us, there’s a different dynamic with us coming off a championship season,” Hixon said. “But that's really set the program in a more positive direction. I’ve talked to so many people who are interested in what we’re doing and our players know and understand that.”
Troy capped a 32-6 season with a come-from-behind 6-5 victory over back-to-back ALWS champion Idaho Falls, Idaho, last August to become the first ALWS champion from Alabama since 1967.
But Hixon and his staff will have a rebuilding chore on their hands as only three of the 18 players from that title roster will be returning this season: pitcher Tanner Burlison, infielder Tanner Taylor and outfielder Drew Shiver.
Two other players were eligible to return in catcher and 2022 George W. Rulon American Legion Player of the Year Brooks Bryan and top pitcher Tucker Jackson. Both are currently playing collegiately — Bryan at Troy University and Jackson at Pensacola State College — and their coaches have arranged for college summer league assignments for both players.
“So that’s two important pieces that we could have coming back but, for they’re under the direction of their college programs and we understand that and we’ll always abide by what our colleges want to do,” Hixon said.
Taylor and Shiver started all five games for Troy in the 2022 ALWS — Taylor at second base and Shiver in left field — while Burlison didn’t play in any of those games in Shelby, N.C.
This season, that trio and a host of newcomers will try to give Troy a seventh straight state title as it has emerged as the state’s top program.
“You know, you’re always adding some new pieces and we’re trying to get everybody to enjoy baseball and form a team chemistry and keep improving,” said Hixon, whose program will sponsor 14U, 15U and 17U feeder programs in addition to the Post 70 Senior American Legion team that’s been so strong recently. “We’ve grown a lot and people are aware of the Post 70 brand.”
Last year’s title ended years of heartbreak since Tuscaloosa had finished as 1966 ALWS runner-up and 1967 ALWS champion.
In the years since, Tuscaloosa (twice), Huntsville, Dothan (twice) and Troy had advanced to championship games only to come up one victory short of a trip to the ALWS.
Troy’s victory has already paid dividends as far as increased interest in American Legion Baseball in Alabama.
“We;re hoping to go from four teams last year to 10,” Hixon said. “And that’s a byproduct of us winning that World Series. (Director of Alabama American Legion Baseball) Alan Phillips has all but said that. Seeing us do that has made other teams think they can also do it.
“(Coach) McKinley Holland at Tupelo (Mississippi) and I are good buddies and he said the same thing happened for them in Mississippi (after Tupelo went to the ALWS in 2021). He said people saw them play in Shelby on ESPN and more teams signed up to play Legion Baseball in Mississippi.
“So we’re excited about getting started again and what the future holds for American Legion baseball here in Alabama.”
Troy is slated to get its 2023 season underway during Memorial Day weekend, then will play a schedule that will take Post 70 to tournaments in Chipola, Fla., and Tupelo, Miss., before competing for another Alabama state tournament title in Tuscaloosa in July with hopes of advancing to the Mid-South regional that will be hosted by Pelham, Ala.