The Thomson High School Bulldogs open their 2009 baseball season Saturday in Evans with a 3 p.m. game against the Lakeside Panthers. This will be coach Terry Holder's fourth season at the helm of the Diamond Dogs. Aaron Hall and Jason Osborne have ably assisted him for his entire tenure in Thomson.
Coach Holder was convinced to take the reins of the Bulldogs by the school administration in hopes of pumping some excitement into the baseball program. He has delivered with an overall record of 47-26 for a winning percentage of .644. While these numbers are nothing to scoff at, Coach Holder will be the first to tell you that he will ultimately judge his success in Thomson not by regular season wins but by state playoff opportunities.
In 2006, Coach Holder's first Thomson team went 16-11, but qualified for the state playoffs. They lost to Spalding High School two games to one in the first round, but Coach Holder felt the stage was set for future trips onto the big stage. Even though the team improved to 15-8 in 2007 and 16-7 last season, they did not qualify for the state playoffs. I can tell you, that sticks in Coach Holder's craw.
Coach Holder made Evans and Greenbrier household names with state baseball championships. He enjoyed the luxury of many excellent players but Coach Holder takes great joy in those scrappy teams loaded with "baseball sense" that find ways to get to the playoffs regardless of the level of their natural talent. He aspires to see his Thomson team develop a similar approach.
"I feel real good about this team as far as the intangibles and their work ethic," Coach Holder said. "The seniors have shown great leadership but as usual, it will all come down to how far our pitching goes and how well we make the plays needed to win the big games."
The four seniors are Jonathan Talkington, Will Anderson, Zachary Washington and Jake Unokur. Having played for no other high school coach these young men have led the charge in the team adjusting to Coach Holder's hands-on style and demanding practice regimen. They have set a tone of support for the younger players so that they do not take the coaching staff's constructive criticism in a personal way. That can be nothing but good.
This team gives off the right kind of vibes. It won't be a group that is looking over their shoulders or into the stands for reaffirmation. They trust the coaches and the coaches trust them, knowing they are in it together. This team won't be about individuals or who is getting "fussed at" the most, or the least. This confidence comes from enjoying the stability provided by Coaches Holder, Hall and Osborne also being together for four years.
Thomson will be at somewhat of a disadvantage in the early going as far as matching their opponent's in games under their belts. If the weather permits the schedules to go forward Lakeside will be playing their fourth game. Game two opponent Screven County will have played 6 games. The scary part is that games three and four on March 13 and 14 are Region 3-AAA games against Richmond Hill and Liberty County respectively. Richmond Hill will be playing their eighth game and Liberty their ninth.
Seldom has any team in any sport entered crucial region play so early in the season with so little playing time as will the Bulldogs. With the new region having only seven schools, all twelve of the region contests will be of the utmost of importance. There will be no region postseason format. The top four finishers in the regular season will advance directly to the state playoffs. This means there will be very little margin of error in region games. They need to be wins.
Burke County and Washington County will be the region opponents that the Bulldogs will be most familiar with. Liberty County eliminated Thomson in the region playoff play-in game last season so that is another team that there will be some familiarity with. Richmond Hill, Baldwin and West Laurens will be total strangers on the diamond.
I look forward to seeing if the glue that Coach Holder expects to be there in 2009 is enough to pay dividends in the form of a state playoff spot. A series at home would even be nice.
Sponsorship permitting, we again look forward to broadcasting all home games on WTHO radio and at www.mcduffiemirror.com.
The first home game will be on Tuesday, March 10, at 6 p.m. versus the Gamecocks of Screven County.