Prep notebook: Oxford's Jones, Woodland's Strain sign letter with JSU
by Brandon Miller
bmiller@annistonstar.com
Nov 13, 2013 | 1843 views |  0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Leah Strain led Woodland to a Class 2A state championship
Leah Strain led Woodland to a Class 2A state championship
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Jacksonville State officially added two local athletes Wednesday when Oxford High baseball catcher Austin Jones and Woodland basketball guard Leah Strain signed a National Letter of Intent to play for the Gamecocks next year.

For Jones, playing for Jacksonville State under head coach Jim Case had been the plan since he was 10 and a bat boy for the Gamecocks during fall-league baseball.

“A while back, my brother used to do the fall league when he was 16 or 17, and Coach Case used to let me be the bat boy,” Jones said. “I got to meet him, and he was cool, and he let me go in the locker room with them and hang out. Since then, I really wanted to go there just because I love who he is, and he’s a good man.

“Right when they offered me I knew I was going to commit and say yes. I felt at home and felt good there. I went into that fall league and wanted to show out, and it just hit. It just clicked.”

Oxford coach Wes Brooks said Jones, who is Oxford’s 18th college signee since 2011, brings power from the left side of the plate with speed to the position, both big boosts. But what Brooks likes most about Jones is his character.

“If you coach 15 Austin Joneses on a team you’re not going to have any problems off the field,” Brooks said. “He works his butt off in the classroom, and his GPA is a 3.59. Jacksonville State signs guys like him who are great guys off the field.”

Strain committed to JSU in early August after being recruited by first-year coach Rick Pietri and assistant Eric Wise while the two were at South Alabama.

Strain was the Class 2A state tournament most valuable player last season, leading Woodland to the championship. She also was the Class 2A player of the year runner-up. She averaged 21.5 points a game as a junior.

HERE DOESN’T COME THE BUS: The Woodland football team had a long night Friday and its battle with Class 2A top-ranked Tanner was just the beginning. The Bobcats didn’t make it back home until 5:30 Saturday morning.

Not long after Woodland fell 41-29 to the defending state champions, the game’s result became secondary. Shortly after Woodland’s two charter buses merged onto Interstate 65, one of the buses broke down.

“One of our buses was losing air pressure, so they got stranded on the side of the interstate,” Bobcats coach Larry Strain said. “I was on the first bus, and we took them to where we were eating and dropped them off and went back and picked everyone else back up.”

Strain said the problem was a pop-valve on the air compressor. It wasn’t working, and air was blowing out rather than building up, which didn’t allow the bus to run because the brakes wouldn’t have worked.

And if the story couldn’t get any wilder, it was the Woodland coaching staff that fixed the bus.

“One of the bus drivers happened to have another valve, but the biggest problem was we couldn’t find the right sized socket to fix it,” Strain said. “We went to a truck stop and asked all the truck drivers for the right socket and eventually we found it.”

From playing a football game to having half the team stranded on I-65 to searching for a socket to fixing a bus, Strain could explain the whole situation only one way: “The good Lord was looking after us is all you can say.”

ROAD WINNERS: Cleburne County had won playoff games on the road before Friday night, but it didn’t happen often.

The Tigers’ 17-14 victory over Madison County was the fourth time Cleburne County has won a road postseason game, with the others coming in 1996, 2001 and 2002. In all three of the earlier cases, the Tigers lost the following week.

Following road wins in 1996 and 2002, Cleburne County lost in the state semifinals at home, and in 2001, the Tigers lost the state championship at Legion field.

Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star
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