Sometimes getting over a hurdle proves more of a challenge than ever imagined.
Such has been the case for the Apalachee High School baseball program. Despite years of existence, the Diamond Cats had not been able to qualify for the postseason.
That streak finally came to an end in 2019 when coach Allan Bailey guided AHS into the state playoffs. The coach said he still believes his team should have won its opening-round series.
With the 2020 season just across the horizon, AHS players and coaches are hoping to show last spring was not a fluke. A return to the postseason is a clear goal. Another goal is to advance in the postseason.
Bailey, entering his fourth season at the school, sees potential. With all position starters back except catcher and one outfield spot, numerous goals are already in place for 2020. In addition, the Diamond Cats will have a large contingent of pitchers to work with.
“The funny thing is winning will do so much for a program,” Bailey said. “Even when you experience a little winning, it can be big. The program has managed to have some winning seasons in the past but actually getting to the postseason was huge. Getting back is a goal for us, but we also want to be able to host a playoff series and to compete for a region championship.”
Bailey, who was coaching in Oconee County before taking the AHS job, said the lack of success for the Wildcat program did not deter him from taking on the challenge.
“It’s something I have been asked about,” the coach said. “Rome wasn’t built in a day. Our seniors have been with me since their ninth-grade year. We also have the same coaching staff in place. That consistency has meant a great deal.”
On Sunday, Jan. 26, AHS players had a voluntary practice. Senior players could be seen working with younger players and getting them ready for the new season.
“I am not an excuse maker,” Bailey said. “I am someone who sees a problem and goes about to fix it. I knew this was a great area. Other coaches talked about the potential for the program. When I made the decision to come here, I already had a great job. However, I felt the potential was here to turn the program around.”
The 2019 team turned some heads by taking Alexander to a third game in a first-round playoff series. That series was not decided until the final inning of Game 3.
“Now we have to be able to build off that success,” Bailey said. “We are making history each year and want to leave more of a legacy every season.”
The coach said it will be important for this year’s team not to look too far down the road. A tough, non-region schedule is lined up and GHSA Region 8-AAAAAA figures to be competitive as always. The Wildcats will play each region foe three times for a 15-game slate, including games with county rival Winder-Barrow High School.
Pitching depth is vital for any successful high school baseball program, and by all indications AHS has it for 2020. Hunter Parks returns for his senior season while Manning West is a 6-foot-6 sophomore. Senior Chris Miller also returns.
Bailey said the team has several freshman, sophomore and junior pitchers who will contribute during non-region games. The coach said he will have as many as 10 pitchers available.
AHS will have a preseason scrimmage on Wednesday, Feb. 5, against Alcovy High School in Covington before opening the regular season Monday, Feb. 10, at Jackson County.
“We will need to be prepared right out of the gate,” Bailey said.
Coming next week: A look at how Winder-Barrow High School veteran baseball coach Brian Smith guides his Diamond Doggs to success year in and year out.