As he prepares to enter season number 13 leading the Winder-Barrow High School baseball program, Bulldogs coach Brian Smith continues drawing from the same well of success that has helped the program make the postseason all but one time during that stretch.
It’s a remarkable accomplishment. The longevity of winning is matched by only a few programs around. One of those programs WBHS will face in its season opener.
“I have always believed the key has been spending time with the younger players in your program,” Smith said earlier this week. “That especially goes for work during the summer and work in the weight room. You have to give them as much attention as your older players because in a few years they will be the ones leading your team.”
It’s an overall concept that current and former Diamond Doggs have embraced. Current upperclassmen help guide the younger players in the program. Many former players continue to offer advice and coaching after they have graduated.
Even when it comes to the junior varsity and freshman schedules, the WBHS players face as strong of competition as possible.
That formula has spelled success with each passing spring. The program has reached the Sweet 16 four consecutive years and made it to the Elite Eight in 2016 and 2019.
As the 2020 WBHS varsity teams prepare for the new season, players will once again face a tough non-region slate. The regular season opener is Tuesday, Feb. 11 against Loganville High School on the road. The Red Devils have won numerous state championships through the years. That type of non-region opponent is what Smith wants for his players.
“We have a very tough non-region schedule again this year,” Smith said. “Our goal is to learn and improve during those games and then be ready for the region.”
The coach said he believes GHSA Region 8-AAAAAA will once again be tough sailing for all teams. WBHS has five returning players but some will be at different positions. Some Diamond Doggs who pitched exclusively in 2019 will also be counted on in the field this spring.
“Having a tough region is actually great because you know you have to be ready to play every time out,” Smith said. “If you aren’t ready to play then you can get beat.”
The offseason work for WBHS, which dates back to the summer and continuing through the fall, has already helped mold this year’s unit.
“It has really gone well,” Smith said. “Our guys are buying into the things we do. It’s all about doing the little things right. This year’s players have a hard-nosed mindset and have a scrappy approach to things.”
With pitching depth always a key in high school baseball, Winder-Barrow is deep on the hill with as many as 12 players who can contribute.
The defending region champions will be led by several players this spring, including senior Trevor Maddox, who has committed to Augusta State, and junior Brady House, who leads the team in the field and at the plate. House, a Tennessee commit, is one of the top-ranked players in the nation for the class of 2021.
WBHS will scrimmage at Grayson High School on Saturday, Feb. 8, before opening the season against Loganville three days later. The home opener will be Friday, Feb. 14, against Peachtree Ridge.
Smith’s leadership style is also defined by his rather calm nature during games. Rarely will you see the coach yelling or screaming (at his players or umpires), rather encouraging and simply asking for clarifications.
It’s an approach that has always seemed to work and few could argue with Smith’s track record. He sends several players to the collegiate level each year and some former players have also made it to the professional level.