LEE COUNTY –– Central-Phenix City baseball is ranked as the top high school team in the country in multiple nationwide polls.
The Red Devils are off to a 24-1 start with a sole loss to Mill Creek, Georgia, earning them the No. 1 spot in rankings by both Baseball America and the Alabama Sports Writers Association Class 7A rankings at the end of last week. Central is the only Alabama program in the list of 35 top teams in the nation.
“The national ranking is certainly an honor,” said head coach A.J. Kehoe. “It’s great recognition for our school, our baseball program and our city. We have embraced it, but we recognize in the big scheme of things it doesn’t guarantee us anything.”
After winning the 7A State Title in 2022 and coming a game short of a repeat in a championship loss to Vestavia Hills last season, the Red Devils have continued their success leading up to area play this season. After starting 9-1, they are entering area play this week on a 15-game win streak.
In his seventh year as Central’s coach, Kehoe knows winning is ideal, but he also knows that early-season losses can be a learning opportunity. The challenge for this team is staying mentally strong and not getting too comfortable in the midst of a winning streak and a dominant season thus far.
Being top dog comes with a target on your back, so Kehoe knows getting back to state won’t be a downhill slide.
“We definitely have a special group of guys but keeping them locked in mentally is always a challenge,” Kehoe said. “It’s a challenge trying to get them to learn from mistakes without the consequence of losing. Winning is always good, and you want to win, but there are some really good lessons in losing. We definitely don’t want to learn our lessons during area play.”
This week, Central opens up play in a “very competitive” 7A Area 4 with a series versus Opelika. It started with a solo game at Opelika on Wednesday before a doubleheader at Central on Thursday.
Smiths Station won the state title in 2015, Auburn High won it in 2018 and 2021, and Central won it in 2021. Even with stiff competition, the Red Devils will be a force to reckon with in their quest to play in the state championship for the third consecutive year.
“Our area has played for or won the state championship seven of 10 years since 7A started in 2015,” Kehoe said. “So very difficult area, certainly one of the best. Anyone can beat anyone.”
Signified by a No. 1 ranking in the country, Central has enjoyed a rapid start to the season. Nonetheless, the Red Devils hope to be celebrating the most at the end of the season.
Central’s biggest concern is putting all distractions aside and reaching their full potential, which Kehoe thinks is still to come even after a No. 1 ranking.
“We are blessed to be where we are and have this opportunity,” Kehoe said. “So we will just focus on being the best coaches and players we can be.”