Pirates set sail: Chattahoochee Valley ready for World Series
Chattahoochee Valley Community College (Alabama) has been nationally ranked and won conference titles, but the Pirates have come up short of playing in the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series until this year.
The Pirates have won an average of 35 games a year and have been perennial playoff and final four participants in the Alabama Community College Conference tournament since 2002. They came within one win of qualifying for the JUCO World Series in 2003.
“It is 15 years of hard work, not just on my end, but the entire program,” Chattahoochee Valley coach Adam Thomas said. “I have a lot of good coaches and a heck of a lot of support from the administration. Hard work always pays off and here we are.
“It had zero to do with Adam Thomas. All the coaches will say they have a special team. This was, not that we haven’t in the past, but there was a certain something about this club.”
The Pirates (47-9) started off fast, winning 14 of their first 15 games and ascended to the top of the national rankings. The 47 victories are a single-season school record.
They stubbed their toe on the road, losing three games to Tallahassee Community College (Florida) at the end of February, with defending national champion Central Alabama waiting for them.
“We were feeling pretty good about ourselves and realized we had a chance to do something significant this year,” Thomas said. “I tried to schedule a tough schedule to prepare us for the grind of a tough season. (The Eagles) kicked our tails up and down the field. They beat our brains out. The ironic thing is they 10-runned us twice and all their players we’re telling our guys we were the best team they’ve seen all year.
“We got back, I said, ‘Guys this is a wake-up call. It’s one thing to think we’re that good. It’s another thing to get beat like that.’ They took that personally. That bothered them how it went down.”
The Pirates rebounded to take two of three against Central Alabama to get back on track and work their way back to the top of the national rankings, where they are going into the World Series.
Chattahoochee Valley swept through the Southeastern District tournament without a loss. The Pirates shut out their first opponent and run-ruled another before beating Alabama Southern 11-5 for the title and a spot in the World Series.
“I’ve gone in (to the ACCC tournament) with an anxious feeling before,” Thomas said. “Something didn’t feel right. This was the most relaxed I’ve been going in. There was something about this club. It’s a very confident bunch. That No. 1 ranking, it’s cool, but is it legit? We held onto it six weeks. I’m so humbled. All credit goes to the boys. I just cut the grass around here.”
The Pirates are led by sophomore shortstop John Holland, who led the ACCC in hits (80), runs (67) and triples (8).
“He’s our catalyst,” Thomas said. “He’s probably the best player I’ve ever had at this level since I’ve been coaching. It’s the intangibles and instincts. You don’t have to coach that kid.”
Holland is also a threat on the base paths, with 26 stolen bases. Chattahoochee Valley has 152 stolen bases, led by Tyler Lynn’s 28.
“We don’t have speed throughout the lineup, but we have bookend speed,” Thomas said. “We want to take advantage of what the defense gives us. Our top two can run and our bottom three can run.”
The Pirates’ ability to steal bases is reminiscent of Thomas’ teams back in the early 2000s when they usually led the ACCC in stolen bases.
“You want thunder in the lineup, but thunder now is 20 home runs, not 80,” Thomas said. “But I didn’t think we’d be at 150 stolen bases.”
That doesn’t mean Chattahoochee Valley plans to swing for the fences in the thin air of Colorado.
“We’re going to stay in the middle of the field, hit line drives and ground balls,” Thomas said. “It’s a point of emphasis for me. We’ve got some strong kids that can do (hit home runs), but that’s not what’s going to win this thing.
“We’re not going to change what we do. We hit 20 home runs as a team, that’s not many.”
Catcher Jared Martin has been an ironman, catching 55 of the team’s 56 games. He’s started 54 games and has only allowed four stolen bases on 16 attempts this season. Martin has signed with the University of South Carolina.
Dalton Rentz has been Chattahoochee’s ace on the mound and is the ACCC pitcher of the year. The sophomore right-hander, who has already signed with Auburn University, is 12-2 with a 1.58 ERA. He led the ACCC in wins and was second in strikeouts (94). Rentz broke the school’s career wins record, once held by major league pitcher Tim Hudson and tied by a couple of others since then. Dalton is 22-3 in his career.
Dylan Lee has developed into a solid starter this season, and Chris Brown, Trevor Guthrie and Colt Ramsey have pitched well out of the bullpen.
“It’s one of those things, we literally led the region in everything,” Thomas said. “Dylan Lee threw five innings last year as a freshman. You don’t see that coming. He worked and the next thing you know he’s one of the top pitchers in the league.”