The Thomson High School baseball team has not made the playoffs since 1997. And third-year Head Coach Brad Smith set out to change that before the season even got started this year.
The 2004 team has five returning starters from last year's 13-7 team that only missed the state playoffs by a couple of games. If senior leadership is important, this Bulldog team has it. There are 13 upperclassmen leading the way, 10 seniors and three juniors.
According to Coach Smith, defense and hitting are the keys for the Bulldogs' chances of achieving their goal of making the playoffs. He said those two are among his team's greatest assets.
"As a team we're pretty good defensively, I think," Coach Smith said. "And I think we're going to put the bat on the ball. We're going to be pretty decent hitting the ball."
The Bulldogs' batting lineup may not be full of power, but according to Coach Smith, he's never pushed home run hitting. Moving runners around the bases consistently is more important to him.
"I think we've got more of a base-hitting type of offense," he said. "Although we've got four or five that can go out, I don't ever try to preach that, so to speak. We try to hit line drives more than anything."
While play in the field and at the plate should be strong, pitching could present problems for Thomson.
"We don't have dominating pitching," Coach Smith said. "We've got some guys that can throw strikes, but as far as someone just taking over a game, I don't think at this point we have anybody that is a dominating type pitcher. So we're going to rely on good defense and offense to overcome that."
Returning players that should be factors for the Bulldogs are Justin Callaway, Brock Hawkins, Tyler Champion and Antwone Johnson.
Some tough region games for Thomson will include Crosscreek and last year's Region 3-AAAA champion Greenbrier. Thomson will also face strong non-region opponents like Lakeside.
The weather has caused the team problems in getting ready for the season. Rain and cold weather have kept the Bulldogs off the field and inside the gym much of the time during the pre-season.
Instead of batting practice and scrimmages, coaches have had to improvise with station work during bad weather days. The team practices throwing, catching and working on possible situations they could find themselves in during a game.
Coach Smith points out that much work has been done to the field in preparation for the beginning of the season. He, with the help of the athletic booster club, has the field groomed and dry for upcoming games.
"I've resurfaced the infield with three loads of clay, and the booster club was good enough to purchase some, what they call, infield conditioner," he said.