Thompson’s Perez, Vincent’s Junkins share Coach of the Year honor

Published 5:48 pm Wednesday, May 31, 2023

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor 

In what was arguably one of the most historic seasons across Shelby County with two teams making their respective semifinals, one making a state championship and seven total making the playoffs, the coaching across the county was next level during the 2023 season.

Two, however, stood out on their way to leading their respective teams to at least the semifinals of the playoffs.

Thompson head coach Frankie Perez did just that in his second year leading the Warriors, making him one of this year’s two Coaches of the Year in Shelby County, while Vincent head coach Timothy Junkins took the Yellow Jackets on a ride all the way to the Class 2A State Championship series.

Vincent’s Timothy Junkins took over the team just before the season started and led the Yellow Jackets all the way to this year’s Class 2A State Championship series. (Reporter photo/Alec Etheredge)

Ultimately, the two ended their seasons in heartbreaking fashion with two one-run losses preventing them from a state championship, yet the standard of each program has shifted with a brighter future now set for both thanks to quick coaching success.

For Perez, he took Thompson on a special trek during the 2023 season that started with the Warriors jumping out to a remarkable 20-0 start against some of the state’s best teams.

That allowed Thompson to hold the No. 1 spot in the Class 7A standings for the majority of the season.

The Warriors eventually saw their season come to a heartbreaking end in the Class 7A semifinals against Vestavia Hills, who they beat in a best-of-three series in the regular season to win the area championship.

In the semifinals, Thompson took a 1-0 series lead with an 11-1 win, but Vestavia bounced back to win back-to-back games by the same 3-2 score to advance to and eventually win the Class 7A championship.

It was heartbreaking for the Warriors, who finished the season 37-8, but they went from a .500 record in 2022 to finishing 29 games above .500 at the end of 2023.

“Thompson baseball is better today than it was 365 days ago,” Perez said after the semifinal series loss. “When I first took this job, we talked about how you have to earn your jersey. This senior class did it. We’re a Final Four team. It came down to the last at bat. We won 37 games, lost eight. Thirty-seven games, lost eight. This senior class should be very proud. We gained the respect of the other teams in our area and around the state.”

He said the ultimate goal for his team in year two was to help them get the taste of May with the slogan “Road to May” and they did just that by playing two different playoff series during the month.

Now, he’s excited for what the future has in store for the program after this year’s 20-game win streak to start the season, an area championship and a run to the Class 7A semifinals.

As for Junkins at Vincent, he didn’t step into the role until January, making what the Yellow Jackets did even more impressive this season.

When the team faced adversity heading into the season, Junkins stepped up and brought the team together.

Early in the season, they faced their challenges, and even started area play 0-2, but they responded from there, winning 14 of their final 15 games to close out the regular season and then sweeping the first three rounds of the playoffs.

The Jackets went on to take down Lindsay Lane 2-1 in a best-of-three series in the Class 2A semifinals to earn a spot in the championship series against Ariton.

Ultimately, like Thompson, Vincent lost to Ariton by one run in back-to-back games, falling 2-1 and 5-4, to come up just short of the title.

“Like I’ve been saying pretty much all season, I’m so proud of these guys,” Junkins said after the game. “We’ve fought hard all year. We’ve been through lots of adversity. This year, not a lot of people gave us a chance at the beginning of the season. I mean, these kids have fought hard game in, game out.”

He said it was a big spark for the community, and he feels confident a young group of players will be ready to take Vincent a step further than 30-7 and a runner-up finish next year.