WC’s Tankersley commits to Tide

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 22, 2000

Taylor Tankersley, who verbally committed to the University of Alabama on Saturday, had a 4-3 record with 73 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings and a 2.87 ERA last season for Warren Central. (The Vicksburg Post/PAT SHANNAHAN)

Taylor Tankersley has been to Omaha, Neb., once for the College World Series. Since then, all he has talked about is going back as a player.

So when the University of Alabama coaching staff sent him a card with a “map” to Omaha which showed Tuscaloosa, Ala. as the way to get there Tankersley was sold.

Actually, he was sold on his first visit to the campus.

“From the time I went on the campus, I just fell in love with the university,” said Tankersley, who verbally committed to the SEC West power Saturday afternoon. “I tried to wait it out for about a month to see if my feelings had changed, but here I am two months later and that feeling hasn’t changed.”

The possibility of Alabama making it to Omaha again are very good. In the six years since coach Jim Wells who Tankersley said is WC coach Sam Temple, plus 15 years took over the program, Alabama has gone to six straight NCAA regionals and three College World Series, losing in the championship game to LSU in 1997.

Last year, the Tide finished 41-24, their sixth-straight 40-win season.

A late push by Southern Mississippi where Tankersley’s former WC teammate Shea Douglas starred as a freshman hurler this year and Ole Miss were not enough to sway his decision.

“He wanted to go somewhere where he would be challenged day in and day out,” WC coach Sam Temple said. “He pushes himself to succeed no matter what he does, and I think Alabama will challenge him. They are a tremendous program.”

Tankersley threw three innings against live hitting on his recruiting trip to Tuscaloosa. A bond was formed between him and Wells almost immediately.

“By the middle of the second inning, he was calling my pitches,” said Tankersley, who becomes just the fourth player in 30 years from Warren County to sign a Division I baseball scholarship and the first player from Warren Central to ever sign to play SEC baseball. Vicksburg High’s Johnny Mims signed with Ole Miss in the 1970s and Robby Goodson signed last year with Mississippi State. WC’s Shea Douglas inked with USM two years ago.

“He had fun calling them and I had fun throwing them,” Tankersley said. “We just clicked. It was nice.”

He even has the Alabama lingo down pat. Asked who his newest worst enemy is? “Auburn. They are the enemy and the Tigers better not cross the path,” he said with a chuckle.

What about his two favorite words? “Roll Tide,” he said, again with a smile.

Signing early was big for the left-hander teammates and WC fans call “The Tank.” College and pro scouts were sure to be a distraction at WC games.

“It gives me a sense of security,” Tankersley said. “A lot of my classmates have no idea what they will be doing for the next four years and I do.”

And the pro scouts?

“That’s the furthest thing from my mind,” Tankersley said. “At this stage, I’m not interested at all in the pro thing.

“It’s all about getting an education. If you look across the Southeast, a degree from Alabama means a lot. That was a big factor.”

Before Tankersley takes his game on the road, he has one more year for the Vikings, who come back with just four seniors, but a very talented, tight-knit group. Tankersley said there is still some unfinished business.

“I want that ring,” he said of a high school state championship.

The lefty, as intense and full of fire as the coach he plays for, made his mark on the high school career early.

As a freshman in the McComb spring break tournament of 1998, Tankersley struck out five of the first six batters he faced.

After his first strikeout, he peered into the Vikings’ dugout and grinned to his teammates, a much different demeanor than he has now.

After that first win, Temple said, “He’s a gem.”

“I knew he would be successful,” Temple said. “He loves challenges, has a great character and has a big heart. If you’ve never seen him pitch, and you come out to watch him, you will immediately understand that competitiveness and that energy he puts into every pitch.”

This past season, Tankersley, the team’s top starter, had a 4-3 record with 73 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings and a 2.87 ERA.

“Taylor is very deserving of this,” Temple said. “His family is also very deserving. They have always supported Taylor and have given him the opportunity to prepare himself.”

That preparation has paid off so far and in the future, could pay off again.

“The SEC West is the most competitive division in the country,” Tankersley said. “If you can prove yourself in the SEC, you can prove yourself anywhere.”