San Jacinto atop latest JUCO poll

Adam Thomas has seen the Chattahoochee Valley (Ala.) Community College baseball program go through some ups and downs.

This year the former catcher and current coach hopes to take the Pirates somewhere they’ve never been — to the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series. The national tournament is May 29-June 5 at Suplizio Field.

Chattahoochee Valley (39-5) has won 23 of its past 24 games to move up to No. 2 in this week’s NJCAA Division I baseball poll.

San Jacinto (Texas) College-North (37-7) moved up two spots to take over the No. 1 ranking for the first time this season.

Walters State (Tenn.) Community College (32-6) is third, followed by the College of Southern Nevada (38-10) and defending national champion Howard (Texas) College (36-8).

Spartanburg Methodist (S.C.) College (41-9) is sixth, followed by Connors State (Okla.) College (39-9), which was No. 1 in the April 14 poll.

Gulf Coast (Fla.) Community College (36-9), Palm Beach (Fla.) State College (32-12) and Western Nevada College (35-12), which swept Southern Nevada two weeks ago in a four-game series but then lost three of four to Southern Idaho, round out the top 10.

Thomas played at Chattahoochee Valley with current Atlanta Braves pitcher Tim Hudson, who recently donated $200,000 to the program, in 1993 and ‘94, when the program was competing in the NJCAA’s Division II.

The program was successful then, winning two of its six conference titles under longtime coach B.R. Johnson. It struggled as the new century approached, winning only eight games in 1999.

Thomas, who was Johnson’s assistant that year, took over the program in 2000 when Johnson retired after 25 years.

“I came in looking to create my own identity,” Thomas said. “I was 23 years old and thought I knew everything. I had all the answers, and we went 14-40 my first year.

“I’ll tell you, you can learn a lot more from losing than winning, and I did. We started putting a plan together. My initial plan, to get best players, was not so good. Then we started looking for players competing for state championships. We went 23-28 that next year and you could see the progress.”

The Pirates continued to improve and had a breakout season in 2003, winning a school-record 41 games, a conference championship and were two outs from reaching the Division II World Series.

In 2005 all Alabama junior college programs moved to Division I.

This season, the Pirates, with 17 sophomores, would love to win more than another conference title.

“It’s a special team,” Thomas said. “The tangible (pitching, hitting and defense) things have been good. The intangibles is what makes this team special.”

The pitching staff is led by three sophomores who have already signed with NCAA Division I programs for next year. Derek Varnadore (7-0) is going to Auburn, Jeff Shields (11-1) to Georgia and Bronson Gagner (7-1) to Mercer University.

Chattahoochee Valley is an aggressive offensive team, leading Region 22 in home runs and runs scored.

“Offensively, this is the best team I’ve had,” Thomas said. “I liken our team to ‘80s St. Louis Cardinals. We are fast, aggressive and steal bases. We can hit doubles and bang the ball out of the park.

“If we get to first base, the pitcher has to think about a lot of things besides the batter.”


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