Thompson’s Frankie Perez retains Coach of the Year title

Published 6:00 pm Monday, May 27, 2024

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

With the Thompson Warriors facing sky-high expectations after coming three wins shy of a state title in 2023, coach Frankie Perez knew the pressure would be immense to live up to last year’s success.

However, even with the players and coaches well aware of what Thompson’s standard is, he said before the season that as long as they played to the best of their ability, everything would work out.

“How do we live up to the great year that we had last year?” Perez said. “I always tell them, ‘Let’s be the best that we can be, and if we get to play well when it matters, great things are going to happen.’”

While the Warriors didn’t achieve the heights of 2023, they faced plenty of adversity on the road to the Class 7A quarterfinals, and Perez’s steady hand of leadership at the helm is why he is once again the Shelby County Coach of the Year.

Entering the season, Thompson had big questions in its pitching rotation after losing 2023 Shelby County Pitcher of the Year and Super All-State selection Landon Alton along with fellow All-County arm Ben Pearman.

However, Perez was confident in newcomer and Alabama commit Ma’Kale Holden to help fill the gap alongside a crowded group of pitchers including Carter Thompson, D’Marion Terrell, Ashton Blair and a loaded offense filled with returning stars.

Their pitching helped them win plenty of big games, especially in out-of-state tournaments in Mississippi and Tennessee that helped test the Warriors throughout the season.

Those out-of-state challenges were part of a plan from Perez to build up his team against some of the toughest tests he could schedule, no matter where they hailed from.

As a result, he admitted in the preseason it was foolish to expect his team to win 20 straight games and go on a similar tear to 2023, but he still had confidence they would rise to the challenge.

And rise they did. Despite not reaching the 37-8 highs of 2023, the Warriors finished 2024 with a 29-12 record while facing a tougher strength of schedule.

Those tests proved crucial when Thompson faced another big challenge: overcoming multiple series deficits in the area.

After losing 2-1 to Vestavia Hills on the road in a windy and wild area opener, Perez got his team ready for the next day at home and swept both legs of the doubleheader 5-3 and 6-1 to take the area series.

The next week at home, the Warriors lost a tight 5-4 battle with Tuscaloosa County to put them in an unexpected hole and behind Hoover’s blistering pace atop the area.

Likely needing to win out in its final three games to secure an area championship and home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs, they did just that.

Thompson bounced back the next night in Northport to get past Tuscaloosa County in a 6-5 win. Then, when faced with another strong Hoover side, the Warriors held off a three-run rally by the Bucs to take Game One 4-3 before dominating Game Two at home 7-2 to seal the title.

Once Thompson reached the playoffs though, the real fight began.

The Warriors found themselves lined up against Spain Park, a team still bitter over losing the area title over a rulebook technicality that Hewitt-Trussville exploited and took over the stands in Alabaster for their first round series.

That series became an instant classic with runs aplenty from each side, and after the Jags took a 17-8 win in Game One, they put Thompson in a familiar spot: down 1-0, this time with the season on the line.

The Warriors rallied in another marathon game to close the night with an 11-9 win and force a deciding Game Three that went down to the wire.

After Thompson posted three runs in the bottom of the seventh to force extras, Spain Park added three runs of their own in the top of the ninth to put all the pressure on the Warriors.

However, Perez’s side remained locked in and turned a lead-off walk into back-to-back singles to load up the bases, and Holden launched an emphatic grand slam to walk off and win 13-12.

The Warriors even battled back when facing a challenging Bob Jones team, rebounding from a 5-3 loss in Game One to win 7-6 in Game Two.

While they lost Game Three to the eventual state champions, it didn’t minimize the effort that it took from Perez and his Thompson team to get to the quarterfinals.

It was a year full of impressive coaching displays as Will Smith helped Spain Park battle through its area and the subsequent controversy to challenge Thompson for a quarterfinals spot, Timothy Junkins took Vincent to the quarterfinals once again in his first full season at the helm and PJ Guy steered Helena to a top 10 rank in Class 6A and an area title.

However, Perez’s help pushing the Warriors through difficult situations when they needed to most pushed him over the top, even if they didn’t achieve their ultimate goal of “Three Más” wins, and in his third year as Thompson’s head coach, he has won at least a share of the Shelby County Coach of the Year award for the third straight season.