After his Alabama State baseball team fell just short in the SWAC Tournament each of the past three years, Hunter McIntosh wondered if he would ever make the NCAA tournament.
Down to their final chance, McIntosh and the Hornets came through. Alabama State went 24-0 in the regular season in the SWAC, then swept through four conference tournament games to earn its automatic NCAA bid.
“I definitely started to have doubts, especially after sophomore year when we got beat in the (SWAC) championship game,” said McIntosh, a senior pitcher from Columbus North. “Junior year comes around, and we didn’t make it. We’ve worked hard, and we finally got it done.”
The fourth-seeded Hornets (38-15) will begin Tallahassee Regional play against top seed and host Florida State (37-20) at 6 p.m. Friday. No. 2 seed Southern Mississippi (40-18) and No. 3 seed South Alabama (40-20) will meet in Friday’s opener at 11 a.m. The double-elimination regional will continue Saturday.
Alabama State lost an 8-7 regular-season decision at Florida State last season.
“When we played there last year, it was an unreal environment with a few thousand people,” McIntosh said. “But this is the big-time stage now. We’re confident going in there.”
The Hornets have won 15 of their past 16 games and are 38-11 since an 0-4 start to the season.
McIntosh has appeared in 14 games and is tied for the team lead with 12 starts. He is 7-2 with a 3.25 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 63 2/3 innings.
“By far, this has definitely been my best year,” McIntosh said. “In the past, I’ve been very inconsistent. I would have a good game, then a bad game, then a good game, then a bad game. I’ve been able to be consistent this year, and I think definitely, that’s been a big part of my success.”
McIntosh’s best outing came on May 1, when he struck out 14 in six shutout innings in a 10-4 victory at Alcorn State. He fanned 10 of the first 14 batters he faced.
Alabama State coach Mervyl Melendez said McIntosh has a fastball in the 86 to 88 mph range. McIntosh, who was mainly a reliever his first two years, started nine games last season and is now the Hornets’ No. 3 starter.
“Hunter has been a very steady pitcher for us whether he has started or coming on in relief,” Melendez said. “Going back four years, I remember a young man with a good breaking ball who got himself in trouble and then got out of it. We wanted to be more consistent with throwing strikes, but throughout his career, he had great games for us. He dominated at times.”
McIntosh is scheduled to graduate this summer with a degree in physical education. He is hoping for a shot to play professional baseball.
If that doesn’t work out, McIntosh wants to become a coach. He has talked to North coach Ben McDaniel about joining his staff at North and with the Indiana Outlaws if he isn’t playing professionally.
“My grandpa (Curt McIntosh) coached me my entire life, and it’s just been one of those things,” Hunter McIntosh said. “I’ve always told him, ‘I want to coach.’ That’s one of the reasons I chose to teach — I want to coach.”
McIntosh and the Hornets have had 11 days since beating Texas Southern 7-5 to win the SWAC Tournament. Although they are now focused on the NCAA, they took time to savor that win.
“It was definitely a feeling that you can’t really put into words,” McIntosh said. “It’s something we were trying to do the past four years, and to finally be doing it, it was definitely an unreal feeling that I’ll never forget.”
High school: Columbus North
College: Alabama State
Height: 6 feet
Position: Right-handed pitcher
Key stats: 7-2 record, 3.25 ERA, 76 strikeouts, 63 2/3 innings pitched