Thompson hopes to continue baseball success
Published 1:02 pm Thursday, February 11, 2016
By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor
ALABASTER – Pat Hamrick is entering his 21st season as the head coach of the Thompson baseball Warriors. In that span of time, he has never seen a run like the one his Warriors have made over the last three seasons. From 2013-15, Thompson won 102 baseball games, accumulated a winning percentage of .703 and was two games away from winning the 7A state title in 2015.
“I’ve never seen anything like it since I’ve been here,” Hamrick said in a Feb. 11 phone interview. “It’s definitely the most I’ve been apart of in a three-year run.”
Last season the Warriors finished the regular season as the No. 3 team in 7A. Thompson then faced, and beat, the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the state in the first two rounds of the playoffs on its way to its first-ever state championship series appearance, where the Warriors lost to Smiths Station in two games.
“That was the first year we’ve been to the finals, ever,” Hamrick said of that 2015 team. “We’ve been to the semis twice, in 1997 and 2006, but that was the first time we’ve made it to the finals.”
To repeat the success of last season and continue the recent success of the program in general, Thompson will have to replace its top two pitchers in Colin Lillie and Stephan Poplin. Lillie threw 79 innings last season, accumulated an 8-1 record with a 2.13 ERA and had 62 strikeouts as well as batting .314 from the plate. Poplin in addition threw 63 total innings, accumulated a 7-2 record and had a 1.67 ERA as well, and finished the season with 49 RBIs, which is the highest total Hamrick has seen in his tenure.
“They had great years, for sure,” Hamrick said of his two graduated aces. “Somebody has to step up and take their place. But about every year we lose our top two guys on the mound. Usually we develop arms playing so many games at the eight and ninth grade levels as well as JV. We have some guys ready to step up.”
Of the pitchers who will be called on to step into bigger pitching roles will be JC Parker, who was the Warriors’ Game 3 starter in the playoffs last season as just a freshman. Lance Johnson also saw time on the mound, as did JC Goolsby. Those three will most likely take most of the pitching duties when area play rolls around after spring break, while senior outfielder Heath Haskins might see some innings as will youngsters Drew Williams and Matthew Blaes.
While the pitching situation shakes out, the Warriors will rely on their bats to carry them for the first part of the season. Thompson is returning its top five batting averages off of last year’s team in Riley Reach (.326), Johnson (.363), Haskins (.390), Chris Lewis (.324) and Jonathan Crawford (.362). Each of the five except for Lewis are members of the large, 12-man senior class the Warriors have this year, and will be responsible for making sure the offense produces like it has in the past.
When talking about expectations for this 2016 team, Hamrick is reserved.
“All we’re trying to do is keep working and get better each day,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll be playing our best ball at the right time.”